It’s about time I have a recommended reading list. If you want to get inside my head (why would you want that??!!), this is what you need to read.
The Physics of Immortality (Frank Tipler)
This book is a mind-warping exploration of ideas at the largest scale, and for me, it drove home the incredible necessity of life as a unified pursuit. In other words, we can’t have religious strivings, and political strivings, and economic strivings, and individual strivings, all living in their own separate worlds. They must be connected and mutually reinforcing — or else we all live in a chaotic, self-destructive reality.
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes)
This book is an exploration of what consciousness is (in a very analytical way), a hypothesis about the rapid, recent development of modern consciousness from a hypothesized earlier form, and an exploration of human history, religion, poetry, and civilization in that light. The effect of this book on me was to fully affirm rationality, and simultaneously give far greater weight to ancient accounts of semi-mythological experiences. While these accounts aren’t “objective”, they might very well have been psychologically real, and not at all uncommon or unhealthy. And the explanation of music that this book provides — essentially a channel back to that earlier mentality — has profoundly resonated with me and informed my work.
The Gifts of The Jews (Thomas Cahill)
This book suggests that concepts which arose in the unique experience of the ancient Jewish people have profoundly reshaped our world. For example, the story of Abraham is to a large extent the story of a man stepping out of a society which saw history as cyclical, predestined, and unchanging, and creating a society which saw history as linear, progressive, and profoundly dependent on individual action.
The Powers That Be (Walter Wink)
This book suggests that the ancient idea of “principalities and powers” (ie, spiritual forces behind political institutions) isn’t simply a superstition, but is in fact a sober way to discuss the psychological dimensions of the socio-political world. It then explores the New Testament as a savvy handbook on non-violent resistance, and explores how similar dynamics are still at work in the world today.
Ishmael (Daniel Quinn)
This fictional story is not really a work of fiction, but a work of philosophy narrated by a telepathic gorilla. I ultimately break pretty substantially with the hard primitivism advocated by this book, but find it illuminating for its analysis of the Cain and Abel story, particularly in combination with The Origin of Consciousness and The Gifts of the Jews.
The Riverworld Series (Farmer)
All humans who have ever lived wake up resurrected alongside a giant, unending river. Their needs are supplied, they cannot die, and they have no idea what is going on. The charm of this story is in how it follows different historic characters (Samuel Clemens, Richard Francis Burton), as they begin to investigate, revolt against, and reshape their world.
The Foundation Trilogy (Asimov)
I’ve said that this series is basically the Old Testament in space, and not only does it read that way, but when I first read it as a teenager, it ended up changing the way I read the Old Testament. It explores in a unique way the really intense dynamics of having a feeling of purpose or destiny — and how that leads to perplexing questions on whether to give up action, and just go with the flow; whether to try to discover the steps that are “pre-ordained”, and just go with those; or whether to actually fight against that destiny with all of your might.
More (to be expanded on):
- Dune (Frank Herbert)
- Ender’s Game
- His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman)
- "Kingdoms of the wall" - a novel about meeting the gods at the top of a mountain
- “I am David" - a new movie that is based on a book I once read