Many Americans have a vague sense that their lives have been distorted by a giant cultural bias. They live in a society that prizes the development of career skills but is inarticulate when it comes to the things that matter most…

— David Brooks (link)

The young achievers are tutored in every soccer technique and calculus problem, but when it comes to their most important decisions—whom to marry and whom to befriend, what to love and what to despise—they are on their own. Nor, for all their striving, do they understand the qualities that lead to the highest achievement. Intelligence, academic performance, and prestigious schools don’t correlate well with fulfillment, or even with outstanding accomplishment. The traits that do make a difference are poorly understood, and can’t be taught in a classroom, no matter what the tuition: the ability to understand and inspire people; to read situations and discern the underlying patterns; to build trusting relationships; to recognize and correct one’s shortcomings; to imagine alternate futures. In short, these achievers have a sense that they are shallower than they need to be.

Help comes from the strangest places. We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness. Over the past few decades, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and others have made great strides in understanding the inner working of the human mind. Far from being dryly materialistic, their work illuminates the rich underwater world where character is formed and wisdom grows. They are giving us a better grasp of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, predispositions, character traits, and social bonding, precisely those things about which our culture has least to say. Brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy.

A core finding of this work is that we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. The conscious mind gives us one way of making sense of our environment. But the unconscious mind gives us other, more supple ways.”

The human brain wasn’t built for modesty…

— David Eifrig Jr.

It feels good to make the right call.

Maybe you predicted the Super Bowl champ at the start of the season or backed the winning presidential candidate early on. When you look back and can say you knew what was going to happen, it gives you bragging rights. And in the financial business, it can make you money.

But recognize that the human brain wasn’t built for modesty…

We tend to trumpet our insights, but brush off all the wrong forecasts we make. You don’t deserve much credit for your Super Bowl prediction. One dropped interception by your young defensive back could have changed the entire outcome. And what about the other years when you’ve gotten it wrong?

Even worse, you can fool yourself into thinking you called something that you didn’t… Today, the number of folks who claim to have known that Donald Trump would win the election far exceeds the number who predicted it publicly beforehand.”

What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?

From “When Breath Becomes Air” P. 71

While all doctors treat diseases, neurosurgeons work in the crucible of identity: every operation on the brain is, by necessity, a manipulation of the substance of our selves, and every conversation with a patient undergoing brain surgery cannot help but confront this fact. In addition, to the patient and family, the brain surgery is usually the most dramatic event they have ever faced and, as such, has the impact of any major life event. At those critical junctures, the question is not simply whether to live or die but what kind of life is worth living. Would you trade your ability — or your mother’s — to talk for a few extra months of mute life? The expansion of your visual blind spot in exchange for eliminating the small possibility of a fatal brain hemorrhage? Your right hand’s function to stop seizures? How much neurological suffering would you let your child endure before saying that death is preferable? Because the brain mediates our experience of the world, any neurosurgical problem forces a patient and family, ideally with a doctor as a guide, to answer the questions: What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?

It was the relational aspect of humans – i.e., “human relationality” – that undergirded meaning …

From “When Breath Becomes Air” P. 39

I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion. A word meant something only between people, and life’s meaning, it’s virtue, had something to do with the depth of the relationships we form. It was the relational aspect of humans – i.e., “human relationality” – that undergirded meaning. Yet somehow, this process existed in brains and bodies, subject to their own physiological imperatives, prone to breaking and failing. There must be a way, I thought, that the language of life as experienced — of passion, of hunger, of love — bore some relationship, however convoluted, to the language of neurons, digestive tracts, and heartbeats.”