Brain Science: Filling The Hole Left By The Atrophy Of Theology And Philosophy

Vladimir Putin, seen in the company of the Composure Class.

Vladimir Putin, member of the Composure Class?

An essay written by David Brooks in the New Yorker earlier this year has become required reading among those he terms as the “Composure Class,” privileged members of an elite who “live in a society that prizes the development of career skills but is inarticulate when it comes to the things that matter most.” Fortunately, the new sciences of human nature can help these poor creatures make sense of their lives:

After the boom and bust, the mania and the meltdown, the Composure Class rose once again. Its members didn’t make their money through hedge-fund wizardry or by some big financial score. Theirs was a statelier ascent. They got good grades in school, established solid social connections, joined fine companies, medical practices, and law firms. Wealth settled down upon them gradually, like a gentle snow.

You can see a paragon of the Composure Class having an al-fresco lunch at some bistro in Aspen or Jackson Hole. He’s just back from China and stopping by for a corporate board meeting on his way to a five-hundred-mile bike-a-thon to support the fight against lactose intolerance. He is asexually handsome, with a little less body fat than Michelangelo’s David. As he crosses his legs, you observe that they are immeasurably long and slender. He doesn’t really have thighs. Each leg is just one elegant calf on top of another. His voice is so calm and measured that he makes Barack Obama sound like Sam Kinison. He met his wife at the Clinton Global Initiative, where they happened to be wearing the same Doctors Without Borders support bracelets. They are a wonderfully matched pair; the only tension between them involves their workout routines. For some reason, today’s high-status men do a lot of running and biking and so only really work on the muscles in the lower half of their bodies. High-status women, on the other hand, pay ferocious attention to their torsos, biceps, and forearms so they can wear sleeveless dresses all summer and crush rocks with their bare hands.

A few times a year, members of this class head to a mountain resort, carrying only a Council on Foreign Relations tote bag (when you have your own plane, you don’t need luggage that actually closes). Once there, they play with hundred-and-sixty-pound dogs, for it has become fashionable to have canines a third as tall as the height of your ceilings. They will reflect on the genetic miracle they have achieved. (Their grandmothers looked like Gertrude Stein, but their granddaughters look like Uma Thurman.) In the evenings, they will traipse through resort-community pedestrian malls licking interesting gelatos, while passersby burst into spontaneous applause.

Occasionally, you meet a young, rising member of this class at the gelato store, as he hovers indecisively over the cloudberry and ginger-pomegranate selections, and you notice that his superhuman equilibrium is marred by an anxiety. Many members of this class, like many Americans generally, 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. 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…

Find out how the Composure Class can use the brain sciences to be more, um, complete? … in the New Yorker.

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  • Liam_McGonagle

    I’ll admit that I’ve read no more than the summary presented here on Disinfo. But would somebody please bother to explain why this thing might be worth reading in toto?

    Philosophy and Theology were intended to bridge the gap between individual and collective experience. That’s not just a trivial, tangental facet of those disciplines; it’s a core principle.

    So-called “Brain Science”, or at least those articulations of it I’ve seen, is no more than a reductivist, mechanistic approach to explaining what neurons just happen to flash on and off when certain mental functions are occurring. They don’t even present a very interesting case for causation, much less a useful guide to the conduct of ethical human interaction.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    I’ll admit that I’ve read no more than the summary presented here on Disinfo. But would somebody please bother to explain why this thing might be worth reading in toto?

    Philosophy and Theology were intended to bridge the gap between individual and collective experience. That’s not just a trivial, tangental facet of those disciplines; it’s a core principle.

    So-called “Brain Science”, or at least those articulations of it I’ve seen, is no more than a reductivist, mechanistic approach to explaining what neurons just happen to flash on and off when certain mental functions are occurring. They don’t even present a very interesting case for causation, much less a useful guide to the conduct of ethical human interaction.

    • RONIN

      Since you’ve merely made a series of assertions and have not presented a case for or against anything, could you first explain why anyone would care to assuage your skepticism? If not, I would tell you to either take a gamble or move on.

      • Liam_McGonagle

        #1. “. . .(W)ould somebody please bother to explain why this thing might be worth reading in toto?”, or, translated for the irony-impaired: “The forward to this article comes nowhere close to establing the plausibility of its title.”>CONCLUSIONMAJOR PREMISEMINOR PREMISE<

        Hmm…whaddaya know, Jim, a case!

        Look, it's clear you have some reading difficulties. If you're not able to connect the dots within this relatively straightforward three-paragraph bit, just save yourself the embarrassment and keep yer yip shut.

        • RONIN

          I see no reason to keep my yip shut. I have no problem admitting that you’re correct, as far as you having made a case goes.

          • Liam_McGonagle

            Wow. That’s very big of you. Then I’ll stop being a flaming ass as well. Bury the hatchet, if you don’t mind?

          • RONIN

            Consider it buried.

    • justagirl

      “high-status women, on the other hand, pay ferocious attention to their torsos, biceps, and forearms so they can wear sleeveless dresses all summer and crush rocks with their bare hands.”

      ~made it totally worth the read for me.

      • Liam_McGonagle

        I . . . I . . . I’m gobsmacked . . .

        I could actually read the rest of the article to verify that the supposedly “great” David Brooks would be such a fucking oddball as to write something like that, but I’m almost afraid that you’ve quoted him out of context or made the thing up out of whole cloth. My heart would be crushed if that were the case. A bit like finding out there is no Santa Claus.

        But that would be to miss the point. Even if the quote is a total fiction, SOMEONE had to make it up. Thank you, Justagirl! You’ve made my day!

        • http://www.facebook.com/spiritual.gunfighter Jonathan Scott

          I agree that was pretty amazing, thank you Justagirl. David fucking Brooks hahahaha.

  • RONIN

    Since you’ve merely made a series of assertions and have not presented a case for or against anything, could you first explain why anyone would care to assuage your skepticism? If not, I would tell you to either take a gamble or move on.

  • justagirl

    “high-status women, on the other hand, pay ferocious attention to their torsos, biceps, and forearms so they can wear sleeveless dresses all summer and crush rocks with their bare hands.”

    ~made it totally worth the read for me.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    #1. “. . .(W)ould somebody please bother to explain why this thing might be worth reading in toto?”, or, translated for the irony-impaired: “The forward to this article comes nowhere close to establing the plausibility of its title.”>CONCLUSIONMAJOR PREMISEMINOR PREMISE<

    Hmm…whaddaya know, Jim, a case!

    Look, it's clear you have some reading difficulties. If you're not able to connect the dots within this relatively straightforward three-paragraph bit, just save yourself the embarrassment and keep yer yip shut.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    I . . . I . . . I’m gobsmacked . . .

    I could actually read the rest of the article to verify that the supposedly “great” David Brooks would be such a fucking oddball as to write something like that, but I’m almost afraid that you’ve quoted him out of context or made the thing up out of whole cloth. My heart would be crushed if that were the case. A bit like finding out there is no Santa Claus.

    But that would be to miss the point. Even if the quote is a total fiction, SOMEONE had to make it up. Thank you, Justagirl! You’ve made my day!

  • RONIN

    I see no reason to keep my yip shut. I have no problem admitting that you’re correct, as far as you having made a case goes.

  • GoodDoktorBad

    The guy makes some humorous observations, but alas, the author is self indulgent like so many of us are.
    A clever redux on the term “Yuppie” is what we all needed -thanks for that.

  • Anonymous

    The guy makes some humorous observations, but alas, the author is self indulgent like so many of us are.
    A clever redux on the term “Yuppie” is what we all needed -thanks for that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/spiritual.gunfighter Jonathan Scott

    I agree that was pretty amazing, thank you Justagirl. David fucking Brooks hahahaha.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Wow. That’s very big of you. Then I’ll stop being a flaming ass as well. Bury the hatchet, if you don’t mind?

  • RONIN

    Consider it buried.

  • RONIN

    Consider it buried.

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