The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford

(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan, 2015), 321

We are living through a crisis of attention (location. 22)

what is at stake often seems to be nothing less than the question of whether one can maintain a coherent self. (location. 23)

Ours is now a highly mediated existence in which, sure enough, we increasingly encounter the world through representations. These are manufactured for us. Human experience has become a highly engineered and therefore manipulable thing. (location. 31)

Drawing on certain dissident strands of thought in the philosophical tradition, I offer what I take to be a more adequate picture of how we encounter objects and other people. (location. 36)

Skilled practices serve as an anchor to the world beyond one’s head—a point of triangulation with objects and other people who have a reality of their own. The most surprising thing to emerge in this inquiry (for me, at least) is that through such triangulation we may achieve something like “individuality.” (location. 42)

Capitalism has gotten hip to the fact that for all our talk of an information economy, what we really have is an attentional economy, (location. Page: 3)

The question of what to attend to is a question of what to value, and this question is no longer answered for us by settled forms of social life. (location. Page: 5)

commercial forces step into the void of cultural authority and assume a growing role in shaping our evaluative outlook on the world. (location. Page: 6)

The fact has not been widely noticed, but attention is the organizing concern of the tradition of thought called phenomenology, and this tradition offers a bridge between the mutually uncomprehending fields of cognitive psychology and moral philosophy. What is required, then, is a highly synthetic effort—we can call it philosophical anthropology. (location. Page: 7)

Through this inquiry I hope to arrive at something like an ethics of attention for our time, grounded in a realistic account of the mind and a critical gaze at modern culture. I should note here that I am using the term “ethics” in its original sense—not primarily as an account of what we are obliged or forbidden to do, but as a more capacious reflection on the sort of ethos we want to inhabit. (location. Page: 7)

Psychologists have suggested that attention may be categorized by whether it is goal-driven or stimulus-driven, corresponding to whether it is in the service of one’s own will or not. (location. Page: 9)

The orienting response requires of us a concerted effort of executive attention if we are to resist it, and our capacity for such resistance is finite. (location. Page: 10)

In the main currents of psychological research, attention is treated as a resource—a person has only so much of it. Yet it does not occur to us to make a claim for our attentional resources on our own behalf. (location. Page: 11)

silence, in this broader sense, is what makes it possible to think. (location. Page: 11)

Because we have allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want yours back you’re going to have to pay for it. (location. Page: 12)

The much-discussed decline of the middle class in recent decades, and the ever greater concentration of wealth in a shrinking elite, may have something to do with the ever more aggressive appropriations of the attentional commons that we have allowed to take place. (location. Page: 13)

I think we need to sharpen the conceptually murky right to privacy by supplementing it with a right not to be addressed. (location. Page: 13)

For Weil, this ascetic aspect of attention—the fact that it is a “negative effort” against mental sloth—is especially significant. “Something in our soul has a far more violent repugnance for true attention than the flesh has for bodily fatigue. This something is much more closely connected with evil than is the flesh. That is why every time that we really concentrate our attention, we destroy the evil in ourselves.” Students must therefore work “without any reference to their natural abilities and tastes; applying themselves equally to all their tasks, with the idea that each one will help to form in them the habit of attention which is the substance of prayer.” (location. Page: 15)

Self-regulation, like attention, is a resource of which we have a finite amount. Further, the two resources are intimately related. Thus, if someone is tasked with controlling her impulses for some extended period of time, her performance shortly thereafter on a task requiring attention is degraded. (location. Page: 16)

Distractibility might be regarded as the mental equivalent of obesity. (location. Page: 16)

One consequence of this is that we are becoming more alike. I open a book of Aristotle and try to read a page of his choppy, gnomic Greek. After a few lines I start to shift my weight in the chair and drum my fingers on the table. It is Tuesday night, after all. I turn on Sons of Anarchy, and share the experience with 4.6 million of my closest friends. The next day, I have some basis for chitchat with others. I am not a freak. If I had gotten absorbed in the Nicomachean Ethics, my head would still be turning in a spiral of untimely meditations that could only sound strange to my acquaintances. (location. Page: 17)

Thus does liberal agnosticism about the human good line up with the market ideal of “choice.” We invoke the latter as a content-free meta-good that bathes every actual choice made in the softly egalitarian, flattering light of autonomy. (location. Page: 18)

While animals certainly have memory and the ability to learn, human beings are thought to be the only creatures who can deliberately recall something not cued by the environment. (location. Page: 20)

What if the coherence of a life is in some significant way a function of culture? (location. Page: 23)

One element of our predicament is that we engage less than we once did in everyday activities that structure our attention. (location. Page: 23)

Such practices locate the possible answers to the question “What is to be done next?” outside our own heads, in our relations to objects and to other people. They establish narrow and highly structured patterns of attention—what I shall be calling ecologies of attention—that can give coherence to our mental lives, however briefly. (location. Page: 23)

Understood literally, autonomy means giving a law to oneself. The opposite of autonomy thus understood is heteronomy: being ruled by something alien to oneself. In a culture predicated on this opposition (autonomy good, heteronomy bad), it is difficult to think clearly about attention—the faculty that joins us to the world—because everything located beyond your head is regarded as a potential source of heteronomy, and therefore a threat to the self. (location. Page: 24)

we find ourselves situated in a world that is not of our making, and this “situatedness” is fundamental to what a human being is. (location. Page: 26)

For several hundred years now, the ideal self of the West has been striving to secure its freedom by rendering the external world fully pliable to its will. (location. Page: 26)

The philosophical project of this book is to reclaim the real, as against representations. (location. Page: 28)

It is in the encounter between the self and the brute alien otherness of the real that beautiful things become possible: (location. Page: 28)

Rather, the cultural crisis of attention provides an occasion to examine the big anthropological picture we have been operating within since the Enlightenment, (location. Page: 28)

Rather, he will make a jig. A jig is a device or procedure that guides a repeated action by constraining the environment in such a way as to make the action go smoothly, the same each time, without his having to think about it. (location. Page: 31)

It is in the world, rather than in his head. This is good, because there is only so much room in his head. (location. Page: 32)

Kirsh finds that experts “constantly re-arrange items to make it easy to 1. track the task; 2. figure out, remember, or notice the properties signaling what to do next; 3. predict the effects of actions.” (location. Page: 32)

High-level performance is then to some degree a matter of being well situated, (location. Page: 33)

Early in the twentieth century this gave rise to the saying “Cheap men need expensive jigs; expensive men need only the tools in their toolbox.” (location. Page: 34)

The point is that to understand human cognition, it is a mistake to focus only on what goes on inside the skull, because our abilities are highly “scaffolded” by environmental props—by technologies and cultural practices, which become an integral part of our cognitive system. (location. Page: 35)

The norms that cultural jigs express and reinforce tend to be reiterated, fractal-like, along different axes of social life; they are robust in that way. Together they make up a more or less coherent form of ethical life, for example Protestant republicanism. By contrast, administrative nudges are a thin attempt to get us to act as if we were virtuous, without any reference to character traits like self-control. (location. Page: 39)

The word “character” comes from a Greek word that means “stamp.” Character, in the original view, is something that is stamped upon you by experience, and your history of responding to various kinds of experience, not the welling up of an innate quality. Character is a kind of jig that is built up through habit, becoming a reliable pattern of responses to a variety of situations. (location. Page: 39)

we are ideal raw material for the architects of mass behavior, and we do well to be aware of the fact so we can choose our architect. (location. Page: 41)

Another way to put this is that the left’s project of liberation led us to dismantle inherited cultural jigs that once imposed a certain coherence (for better and worse) on individual lives. This created a vacuum of cultural authority that has been filled, opportunistically, with attentional landscapes that get installed by whatever “choice architect” brings the most energy to the task—usually because it sees the profit potential. The combined effect of these liberating and deregulating efforts of the right and left has been to ratchet up the burden of self-regulation. (location. Page: 41)

Disciplining children is one of the most thankless tasks in a marriage, and a persistent source of resentment between many spouses. (location. Page: 43)

“Perceiving is a way of acting. Perception is not something that happens to us, or in us. It is something we do.” (location. Page: 48)

an indefinite variety of three-dimensional objects can project identical two-dimensional shapes on the retina of an observer. If static optical information is all that is available to the subject, then because such information underspecifies the shapes of surfaces, it follows that it must be supplemented with something else; something going on inside the head of the subject—namely, assumptions about the structure of the world. This is the motivation for thinking that perception involves an inferential process in the brain. This inference is taken to be computational. That is, “cognition consists in the manipulation of symbols, where these manipulations often involve the application of rules for the purpose of deriving conclusions that go beyond the information [that is presented to the eye],” as Lawrence Shapiro writes in Embodied Cognition, his excellent overview of the embodied cognition literature. (location. Page: 49)

In his now-classic article “Intelligence Without Representation,” published in the journal Artificial Intelligence in 1991, Rodney Brooks wrote that “the world is its own best model.” Roboticists are learning a lesson that evolution learned long ago, namely, that the task of solving problems needn’t be accomplished solely by the brain, but can be distributed among the brain, the body, and the world. (location. Page: 50)

We think through the body. The fundamental contribution of this school of psychological research is that it puts the mind back in the world, where it belongs, after several centuries of being locked within our heads. The boundary of our cognitive processes cannot be cleanly drawn at the outer surface of our skulls, or indeed of our bodies more generally. They are, in a sense, distributed in the world that we act in. (location. Page: 51)

This is an instance of “ecological control,” or “morphological computation,” in which “goals are not achieved by micromanaging every detail of the desired action or response but by making the most of robust, reliable sources of relevant order in the bodily or worldly environment of the controller,” as Clark writes. (location. Page: 52)

When we become competent in some skilled action, the very elements of the world that were initially sources of frustration become elements of a self that has expanded, (location. Page: 52)

Affordances lie in the fit between an actor and his or her environment. (location. Page: 55)

Cussins writes that “the great advantage of experiential content is that its links to action are direct, and do not need to be mediated by time-consuming—and activity-distancing—inferential work.” (location. Page: 57)

I suspect overreliance on the speedometer may slacken the bonds between action and perception, and indeed there is evidence that when our attention is diverted to symbolic representations, it can have such a loosening effect. (location. Page: 58)

Getting things right requires triangulating with other people. (location. Page: 63)

The creeping substitution of virtual reality for reality is a prominent feature of contemporary life, but it also has deep antecedents in Western thought. It is a cultural project that is unfolding along lines that Immanuel Kant sketched for us: trying to establish the autonomy of the will by filtering material reality through abstractions. (location. Page: 73)

How we act is not determined in an isolated moment of choice; it is powerfully ordered by how we perceive the situation, how we are attuned to it, and this is very much a function of our previous history of shaping ourselves to the world in a particular way. (location. Page: 75)

Whether you regard it as infantile or as the highest achievement of the European mind, what we find in Kant are the philosophical roots of our modern identification of freedom with choice, where choice is understood as a pure flashing forth of the unconditioned will. This is important for understanding our culture because thus understood, choice serves as the central totem of consumer capitalism, and those who present choices to us appear as handmaidens to our own freedom. (location. Page: 76)

We have throttle by wire, brake by wire, and electrical assist (versus hydraulic assist) brakes, as well as traction control and antilock brakes that modulate our driving inputs for us. What all this idiot-proofing and abstraction amounts to is a genuine poverty of information reaching the driver. What’s more, the information that does get through is presented in a highly mediated way, conveyed by potentiometers and silky smooth servos rather than by the seat of your pants. It is therefore highly discrete, and does not reflect fuzzy, subtle variations. Nor is it sensitive to changes that haven’t been anticipated and coded for ahead of time, for example the vibration that might arise from a brake caliper bracket that has come loose or cracked. Perhaps most troubling, the electronic mode of presentation means that information about the state of the car and of the road is competing with information from other electronic devices that may be a lot more interesting. (location. Page: 80)

“Involve your ass, your mind will follow.” And conversely, “Free your ass, your mind will wander.” (location. Page: 80)

Eric Dumbaugh, a civil and environmental engineer at Texas A&M University, says, “We assume that safety is the result of ‘forgiving’ roads. We figure straightening out streets and widening shoulders makes a road safe.”1 This turns out to be wrong. When roads look dangerous, people slow down and become more heedful. (location. Page: 81)

A car that interposes layers of electronic mediation between the driver and the road demands an effort of interpretation by the driver, because each of those layers is based on a representation that has no inherent, necessary relationship to the states being represented. (location. Page: 82)

This design problem of disconnection or arbitrariness mirrors a fundamental problem in cognitive science: the symbol-grounding problem. (location. Page: 82)

The symbol-grounding problem is this: How can arbitrary symbols take on meaning? How do they acquire propositional content and reference, such that they say something about the world? The same question is posed in philosophy of language, since after all there is no necessary connection between the sounds we make and what those sounds mean. (location. Page: 82)

Our embodied mode of existence has given rise to exquisitely sensitive capacities for detecting and negotiating the world, and a good design principle would be to try to exploit these capacities, rather than to sever the connections between perception and action, as the current generation of automotive engineers seems intent on doing. (location. Page: 85)

Natasha Dow Schüll in her deeply disturbing book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. (location. Page: 90)

The appeal of machine gambling is apparently tied to an experience of the human world as lacking a basic intelligibility. (location. Page: 92)

Through their loyalty cards, repeat players are tracked and their behavior is carefully analyzed. Some casinos have facial recognition software that enables a player’s favorite machine to call out to her by name if cameras on the casino floor detect that she is headed toward the exit. (location. Page: 98)

What is new is that the apparent odds that are presented to the player are now subject to manipulation, independently of the actual odds. This is done by displaying machine events that seem to represent the process by which randomness is generated, but are in fact completely divorced from that process. This design element sustains our natural assumption that the game is ruled by lawlike mechanical processes that could be mastered, with enough repetition. But this is an illusion. (location. Page: 101)

You may have decided hours ago to abandon yourself to the video poker terminal, but as long as you still have funds available, you are faced with the possibility of acting otherwise: of stopping. Your will is still in play. (location. Page: 104)

Once they submit to the compulsion, the question is settled and the will is relieved of its burden. (location. Page: 105)

This might seem exotically pathological, but I can detect something like a death instinct in myself, for example in those times when I slump in front of the TV and watch whatever is served up. It becomes an occasion for self-disgust as soon as I rouse myself from the couch, and is no great source of pleasure while I am in the trance, so why do I do it? I think because the passivity of it is a release from the need for control. As someone who is self-employed, I don’t have the jig of a regular job, so the disposition of every hour is a matter of choice, an occasion for reflection and evaluation. (location. Page: 105)

There is another reason to regard hard-core gamblers not simply as aberrant, but as showing us something important about the human condition. Their activity is perhaps the dark mirror image of something we recognize as worthwhile: an activity that has no point beyond its own continuance, because it is not a means to some other end. (location. Page: 105)

The medicalization of what have previously been considered moral issues is a broader cultural phenomenon. (location. Page: 107)

To capital, our moral squeamishness about being “judgmental” smells like opportunity. (location. Page: 107)

Our economic system assumes that individuals are radically responsible for themselves. Maintaining this view requires that we hive off any group of people who fail to live up to the autonomous ideal (problem gamblers, sex addicts, etc.) and designate them pathological. If they have an internal defect, then there is no urgent reason to criticize external forces (for example, slot machines in convenience stores; porn that is accessible on your mobile device) that contribute to their lack of self-command. (location. Page: 107)

We abstain on principle from condemning activities that leave one compromised and degraded, because we fear that disapproval of the activity would be paternalistic toward those who engage in it. We also abstain from affirming some substantive picture of human flourishing, for fear of imposing our values on others. This gives us a pleasant feeling: we have succeeded in not being paternalistic or presumptuous. The priority we give to avoiding these vices in particular is rooted in our respect for persons, understood as autonomous. “People should be allowed to make their own decisions.” (location. Page: 108)

Liberal agnosticism about the good life has some compelling historical reasons behind it. It is a mind-set that was consciously cultivated as an antidote to the religious wars of centuries ago, when people slaughtered one another over ultimate differences. After World War II, revulsion with totalitarian regimes of the right and left made us redouble our liberal commitment to neutrality. But this stance is maladaptive in the context of twenty-first-century capitalism because, if you live in the West and aren’t caught up in battles between Sunnis and Shiites, for example, and if we also put aside the risk of extraordinary lethal events like terrorist attacks in Western countries, then the everyday threats to your well-being no longer come from an ideological rival or a theological threat to the liberal secular order. They are native to that order. (location. Page: 109)

Perhaps the time one spends on hold is not due to “unusually heavy call volume,” but is rather calibrated to persuade a certain percentage of callers not to persist. (location. Page: 110)

I appreciate the freedom-loving, government-hating spirit of libertarians, but I think they take too narrow and old-fashioned a view of the thing they hate—of the settings in which the individual is subject to various kinds of rule. Capital is concentrated to the point that it operates in quasi-governmental ways, abetted by ever more powerful information technology. Arguably, one of the most important functions of the (actual, elected) government, now, is precisely to restrain and regulate the explosion of unaccountable governmentality in our dealings with outsized commercial enterprises. (location. Page: 110)

The more effective defense would consist of a good offense: a positive account of action in its full human context, in which the actor is in touch with the world and other people, in comparison with which the autistic pseudo-autonomy of manufactured experiences is revealed as a pale substitute. (location. Page: 111)

For John Locke, the main threat against which it was necessary to assert freedom was the arbitrary exercise of coercive power by the political sovereign. (location. Page: 118)

Locke’s strategy, however sincere (and scholars disagree on this), is to offer a theological argument of his own: God is so much greater than man, the difference is so unfathomable, that this relation mocks any attempt by one man to claim godlike coercive power over another. (location. Page: 118)

Notice that we have moved from an argument about the illegitimacy of particular political authorities in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to the illegitimacy of the authority of other people in general, to the illegitimacy of the authority of our own experience. (location. Page: 122)

In telling the story of the Enlightenment in this sequence, I want to suggest that the last stage, the somewhat anxious preoccupation with epistemology, grows out of the enlighteners’ political project of liberation. (location. Page: 122)


Michael Polanyi wrote, “An art which cannot be specified in detail cannot be transmitted by prescription, since no prescription for it exists. It can be passed on only by example from master to apprentice. (location. Page: 134)

In the second half of his life he took up philosophy in an effort to understand his own experience of scientific discovery. (location. Page: 134)

Bruce Springsteen, who is reported to have said, “Self-knowledge is a kind of funny thing because the less of it you have, the more you think you have.” (location. Page: 151)

The practices I have in mind, as being especially countercultural and therefore in need of defense, are philosophy and craftsmanship. (location. Page: 157)

Depression presents itself as an illness of responsibility in which the dominant feeling is that of failure. (location. Page: 161)

“culture of performance” in which you have to constantly marshal your internal resources to be successful, as Ehrenberg says. (location. Page: 162)

Tocqueville wrote: As social conditions become more equal, the number of persons increases who … owe nothing to any man, [and] expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands. Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.5 (location. Page: 164)

With this shift comes a new pathology. The affliction of guilt has given way to weariness—weariness with the vague and unending project of having to become one’s fullest self. We call this depression. (location. Page: 165)

On Freud’s understanding, there is a fundamental conflict between the self and the world; that is essentially what the experience of guilt tells us. Such conflict is a source of anxiety, but it also serves to structure the individual. The project of becoming a grown-up demands that one bring one’s conflicts to awareness; to intellectualize them and become articulate about them, rather than let them drive one’s behavior stupidly. Being an adult involves learning to accept limits imposed by a world that doesn’t fully answer to our needs; to fail at this is to remain infantile, growing old in the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. (location. Page: 166)

Perhaps we have merely shifted the source of our lack of freedom from identifiable external authorities (the kind one can challenge) to a net of scientistic explanations and economic pressures. Both the explanations and the pressures are predicated on an atomized picture of the self. The binding character of this net is hard to see and hard to take issue with, because it fits so comfortably. If it could speak, it would do so in the deep grammar of autonomy. (location. Page: 167)

Recall the quotation from Simone Weil: “Something in our soul has a far more violent repugnance for true attention than the flesh has for bodily fatigue. This something is much more closely connected with evil than is the flesh. That is why every time that we really concentrate our attention, we destroy the evil in ourselves.” (location. Page: 170)

The Epicurean recommendation, in contrast to the Stoic, is that if you are being disturbed by some unwanted emotion, it is a shift of attention, rather than a willful effort of belief, that will deliver you from it. (location. Page: 173)

It has been said that ritual (as opposed to sincerity) has a “subjunctive” quality to it: one acts as if some state of affairs were true, or could be.5 This would seem to be a particularly Jewish sort of wisdom—an emphasis on observance as opposed to the Protestant emphasis on inner state. It relieves one of the burden of “authenticity.” (location. Page: 174)

When you put forward an aesthetic judgment in public, you put yourself at risk. What you’re saying is “This is good.” That kind of full-throated affirmation has always been at odds with the agnosticism that is thought to be part of democratic good manners. (location. Page: 183)

It was Thomas Hobbes who first made the privatization of judgment a political principle. Writing during the bloody English civil war, he argued not just that strong evaluations should be kept to oneself, in order to keep the peace. (location. Page: 183)

The dogmatic inarticulacy of subjectivism—perhaps we should call it moral autism—leaves people bereft of any public language in which to express their intuitions about the better and worse, the noble and shameful, the beautiful and ugly, and assert them as valid. (location. Page: 184)

In the 1840s, Kierkegaard wrote that “leveling” is the victory of the public over the individual through abstraction. To conceive oneself as part of the public is flattering, in the same way that adding a bunch of zeroes after a one makes for an impressive number. Yet it is also humbling, because “even a pre-eminently gifted man … becomes conscious of himself as a fractional part in some quite trivial matter…” (location. Page: 188)

The normative center of gravity now resides in the middle of a distribution, rather than coming from a religious interdiction or parental guidance, on the one hand, or from a cultivated, proudly antinomian sense of oneself as a pervert and sinner, on the other. (location. Page: 196)

“Ideology” could be taken (somewhat narrowly) to mean an idea that happens to line up with the material interests of those who espouse it. (location. Page: 201)

It seems we need to supplement Kierkegaard’s psychology. He taught us that reverence is a prerequisite to rebellion. The organ reform movement sheds light on the other side of this coin: a readiness to rebel—against the self-satisfaction of the age—seems to be prerequisite to discovering something you judge worthy of reverence. (location. Page: 225)

Over the next several months it became clear to me that such conversations combining history and engineering, guided by a visceral concern for the excellence of organs, are a regular part of working at Taylor and Boody, however much John might groan sometimes about “people standing around flapping their gums.” John himself is the worst offender, instigating these conversations as he moves through the shop. (location. Page: 230)

The conversations seem to enact a particular kind of authority that John has in the shop. It is more like that of a teacher than that of a manager, and I think it is best understood in connection with the idea of “the thread” John mentioned in our first conversation. His role appears to be that of taking what can be learned from the tradition, interrogating it critically, and linking it to an image of perfection to be achieved in the future. (location. Page: 230)

Generally such techs were themselves organ builders, so the activity of reverse-engineering another maker’s organ to learn new techniques is itself part of the tradition of organ making. (It is much like the history of philosophy in this regard.) (location. Page: 240)

Taylor and Boody seem to adopt a neutral stance toward both history and technology, fraught neither with romantic resentment toward change nor with the kind of uncritical enthusiasm for “high tech” that embraces change merely for the sake of change. Their purpose is to build the best organs they can. (location. Page: 240)

This was brought home to me by a story John told about restoring the organ at the chapel of the University of Richmond. This organ was built in 1965 and boasted certain “space age” materials. Thirty-five years later, these plastic action parts and synthetic gasketing materials had melted, and the organ was unusable. Taylor and Boody tore the organ down and replaced the space age stuff with traditional materials: wood, felt, and leather. If the standards of technology are those of functionality, then in this case wood and leather turned out to be higher-tech than plastic. As woodworkers have known for centuries, the dimensional changes of wood with humidity (there is little with temperature) can be accommodated by orienting the grain lengthwise to the dimension that needs constant tolerance. Wood and leather are easily worked with hand tools, have excellent “toughness,” and their durability is a known quantity. They are general-purpose materials readily available, rather than proprietary ones tied to the fortunes of one company. With respect to future generations, they make repair work a transparent matter—leather can be sewn and wood can be glued with common glues, whereas the chemistry of plastic polymers is an opaque matter that makes bonding uncertain. Here is a case where space age materials were a bad idea precisely because, ironically, they were insufficiently future-oriented. (location. Page: 241)

As we have seen, the dialectic between tradition and innovation allows the organ maker to understand his own inventiveness as a going further in a trajectory he has inherited. This is very different from the modern concept of creativity, which seems to be a crypto-theological concept: creation ex nihilo. For us the self plays the role of God, and every eruption of creativity is understood to be like a miniature Big Bang, coming out of nowhere. This way of understanding inventiveness cannot connect us to others, or to the past. It also falsifies the experience to which we give the name “creativity” by conceiving it to be something irrational, incommunicable, unteachable. (location. Page: 243)

Perhaps it is more generally true that in order to learn from tradition, one has to be able to push against it, and not be bowed by a surfeit of reverence. The point isn’t to replicate the conclusions of tradition (here, the use of oak), but rather to enter into the same problems as the ancients and make them one’s own. That is how a tradition remains alive. (location. Page: 244)

in a culture saturated with technologies for appropriating our attention, our interior mental lives are laid bare as a resource to be harvested by others. (location. Page: 247)

Only beautiful things lead us out to join the world beyond our heads. (location. Page: 258)

Created: 2017-10-13
Updated: 2022-07-15-Fri