I have to rethink everything, now.
August 5, 2010 1:27 PM   Subscribe

I just read Sex at Dawn. It's a book that, as I understand it, questions an assumption that has held sway for most of recorded history. What other books or ideas question assumptions that span millennia? I'm looking for more well-argued cases that rock my reality and cause me to question and recontextualize, well, everything.
posted by zeek321 to Grab Bag (39 answers total) 115 users marked this as a favorite

 
Julian Jaynes's The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Thought-provoking even if you finish unconvinced.
posted by drdanger at 1:32 PM on August 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Science and an African Logic. The second half gets rather technical, but it should be manageable without a math degree.
posted by muddgirl at 1:32 PM on August 5, 2010


I am just reading this book now as well. Thanks for asking this!
posted by vkxmai at 1:40 PM on August 5, 2010


I don't have any suggestions for you, but here's a critical review of Sex at Dawn that I just read. In case you'd like to read a challenge to their challenge of the assumptions.
posted by goodnight moon at 1:41 PM on August 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Seconding the "Bicameral Mind" recommendation.

Tangentially related, Thomas Metzinger's The Ego Tunnel may give cause for worldview-rocking depending on exposure to other ideas.

Memes are pretty commonly talked about nowadays, so it's probably less potentially thought-provoking than it used to be, but Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine is worth a read.

Tomas Gilovich's How We Know What Isn't So is a nice survey work of many of the ways the human mind is just really quite bad at thinking about things.
posted by Drastic at 1:43 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind questions assumptions, sure, but so do many books with gaping flaws in logic and science. Chariots of the Gods comes to mind.

A problem with your question is that most books that successfully challenge orthodoxy are now in the mainstream. For example, Copernicus's books that questioned the idea that the Sun went around the Earth. Or Robert T. Bakker's The Dinosaur Heresies that claimed that dinosaurs were not slow, dumb, lumbering, cold-blooded animals, but fast and warm-blooded and possibly not so dumb after all. Or Charles Darwin's Origins of Species, which claimed that species evolve. Or anything by Newton. Or Kon-Tiki, which claims that the Polynesians were able to sail vast distances with extremely primitive (but mentally sophisticated) navigation technology.

Perhaps what you are looking for is books that are still controversial. For example, Charles Mann's 1491 claims that Native Americans numbered over 50 million prior to the arrival of white men and their infectious diseases. Not everyone buys that argument although the evidence increases every day. And, of course, there is An Inconvenient Truth, which is controversial among Republicans, though not climate scientists.
posted by musofire at 1:46 PM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


A problem with your question is that most books that successfully challenge orthodoxy are now in the mainstream.

I guess I am looking for bold, falsifiable, cutting-edge thought that people aren't generally aware of but that has a chance of making into the mainstream (or perhaps being ultimately slapped down, but raising many very important questions along the way).
posted by zeek321 at 1:50 PM on August 5, 2010


making into the mainstream

Er, not necessarily pop-mainstream, but smart-people-dedicated-to-truth-and-beauty-and-justice-and-science-mainstream.
posted by zeek321 at 1:53 PM on August 5, 2010


The End of Science, by John Horgan
posted by pete_22 at 1:53 PM on August 5, 2010


UCLA Professor Jared Diamond's essay "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race" questions one of the most basic assumptions in human history, the development of agriculture was a good thing. I disagree with his argument, it is at least well argued enough to continue generating academic discussion 23 years after it's original publication.
posted by chrisulonic at 1:54 PM on August 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


"Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn.
posted by aheckler at 1:56 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


zeek321: “I just read Sex at Dawn. It's a book that, as I understand it, questions an assumption that has held sway for most of recorded history. What other books or ideas question assumptions that span millennia? I'm looking for more well-argued cases that rock my reality and cause me to question and recontextualize, well, everything.”

None. There are no assumptions which have been held for millennia. There are always people who question assumptions, and over hundreds of years, all of the assumptions get questioned.

Most of the most ridiculous and false assumptions people make today about the past stem from the odd idea, quite popular in modern times, that people in the past were stupid, and believed anything just because their parents told them to. The notion that people in the past believed stuff for millennia without ever questioning it is a variety of this assumption.

There are a few examples I have in mind. One is the distinction people are always trying to make between "eastern" and "western" ways of thinking; people like to say that "eastern" people are more "spiritual," whereas "western" people are more "logical," etc. In truth, these distinctions are ridiculous, as the world is simply more diverse than these insanely broad categories can allow. I mention this because I've heard some people argue that there are certain mistakes that "the western world" adopted via Aristotle two thousand years ago; this is ridiculous not least because Aristotle's thought is vastly foreign to our own, and to believe that he or any ancient Greek had so much in common with us is to make the mistake of forgetting all the differences.

I really don't think you can draw out mistakes that people have been making for millennia. You will invariably find not one, not two, not even a dozen, but millions of people who didn't make that mistake. Seriously; try it.
posted by koeselitz at 2:05 PM on August 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond did this for me. It's a common recommendation here, but that's for a reason. It will blow your mind!
posted by elder18 at 2:08 PM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Leo Steinberg's The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion certainly does this for a deeply-held, if rather narrow, assumption that has held sway for centuries. Its rather expensive and dense, so maybe check it out of the library first if you can - you can get the gist of his argument very quickly.
posted by googly at 2:13 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Authoritarians
posted by jtron at 2:27 PM on August 5, 2010


I guess I am looking for bold, falsifiable, cutting-edge thought that people aren't generally aware of but that has a chance of making into the mainstream (or perhaps being ultimately slapped down, but raising many very important questions along the way).

I hate to point this out, but the premise of Sex at Dawn, according to the amazon blurb, is simply not falisfiable. The fact is we don't know a damn thing about what happened back then. We have bones and some guesses. Until we have a time machine, who knows what people did in sexual relationships. I certainly don't.

Having said that, I recommend Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Braudel's The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II, The Peasants of Languedoc by Emmanuel Le Roy Lauderie, and Centuries of Childhood by Phillipe Aries.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:29 PM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


The first part of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma makes some surprising points about corn-based agriculture in the US.
posted by biddeford at 2:31 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Antonio Damasio's Descartes' Error is a good refutation of the widespread idea that there's a "mind" which exists apart from the body.
posted by vorfeed at 2:53 PM on August 5, 2010


The Emperor of Scent
posted by ecurtz at 2:53 PM on August 5, 2010


The Nuture Assumption which essential argues that kids are more influenced by their peers than their parents (for example).

Thinking and Deciding summarizing lots of research on decision making.

Nthing the Diamond "Worst Mistake" essay. Turned me into an archaeologist :)
posted by gregglind at 3:46 PM on August 5, 2010


Jesus, Interrupted. Dumb title (unless it's some pop culture not to the depiction of Jesus having a personality disorder due to mis-matched writing), painfully repetitive in some places and providing scant information in others, but this was the first book I've read that attempts to find the historical truths behind the bible, instead of assuming the bible is the word of God by way of men, with good links to further reading, if this is sort of thing interests you.

In regards to Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel has a lot of criticism, which isn't to say it's a terrible book, just that it may not be wholly honest with it's point of view. His essay has plenty of counter-arguments, too. And from the same fellow: some problems with Ishmael.

Once your mind is opened to new ideas, don't simply replace the old with new and consider your worldview re-set. Continue to critique what is written and stated, because some assumptions that seem to fit on first glance may break if forced.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:12 PM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


googly--

steinberg has also had some criticism, but i wanted to double that recommendation. jed perl's book on watteau made me rethink modernism.
posted by PinkMoose at 4:48 PM on August 5, 2010


Who Wrote the Bible, if you're interested in that sort of thing.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:54 PM on August 5, 2010


"Three Versions of Judas" by Jorge Luis Borges.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 6:24 PM on August 5, 2010


Denial of Death by Ernest Becker.

I Am A Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:30 PM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Good Calories, Bad Calories.
posted by ifjuly at 6:43 PM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Read The History of Sexualty by Focault. Intensely mind blowing stuff, especially if you liked reading about how idealized sex and sexuality are socialy constructed.
posted by JimmyJames at 6:47 PM on August 5, 2010


For example, Charles Mann's 1491 claims that Native Americans numbered over 50 million prior to the arrival of white men and their infectious diseases. Not everyone buys that argument although the evidence increases every day.

Most of the data in 1491 is consistent with stuff I learned as an anthropology major in college. So I doubt it's really all that "controversial" anymore, more that most people accept some exceptionally wrong things about the social sciences based on A) the fact that very few people study them formally, B) casual racism/xenophobia*, and C) the prevalence of popular history/sociology which has little or nothing to do with currently accepted concepts within the field.

However, I definitely recommend 1491 as a thoroughly mind-blowing book.

In the same vein, Lies My Teacher Told Me.

*it being very convenient for us to believe that the entire American continent was conveniently empty when we Whiteys showed up.
posted by Sara C. at 7:45 PM on August 5, 2010


Although it's probably a little outdated at this point. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn was a real eye-opener for me.
posted by hubs at 8:35 PM on August 5, 2010


The premise of Gender Trouble comes to mind too, though hot damn, Butler's prose style can be impenetrable. And it's not as radical these days (yay!).
posted by ifjuly at 8:41 PM on August 5, 2010


I thought The Selfish Gene accomplished this pretty handily. 2nding Guns, Germs, and Steel, too.
posted by little light-giver at 9:57 PM on August 5, 2010


I guess I am looking for bold, falsifiable, cutting-edge thought that people aren't generally aware of but that has a chance of making into the mainstream (or perhaps being ultimately slapped down, but raising many very important questions along the way).

Sounds like you would be very interested in Dr. Robert Epstein's The Case Against Adolescence.
posted by Chipmazing at 10:15 PM on August 5, 2010


goodnight moon: Other than pointing out that Sex at Dawn skews male and overlooks women in some areas (a criticism I agree with but one that doesn't effect the thesis or overall theme) the only criticism that addresses Sex at Dawn's evidence that that review can muster is the Leitenberg study, which actually dovetails quite nicely into both Sex at Dawn and Dr. Epstein's book. The Leitenberg conclusions cannot address that social pressure and artificial burdens such as shame and self-loathing may be what drive these young women to drug and alcohol abuse and depression, not the physical act of sex itself. Additionally, demographics that are sexually active younger often have greater access to drugs and alcohol, live in environments that may cultivate depression or inhabit a subculture where drugs, booze and sex are not age-hierarchied things. Additionally, if these young women were post pubescent then there should be no physical/non-social issue with their sexual activity. And if their sexual activity was pre-pubescent, that is horrfying abuse, and its such a violation that probably cause the increase in drug usage/depression.
posted by Chipmazing at 10:25 PM on August 5, 2010


At Home in the Universe, by Stuart Kauffman
posted by sapere aude at 11:15 PM on August 5, 2010


Came to say Ishmael as well. The notion that in a billion years, or whatever, humans could 'guide' other species to sentience is a pretty bold idea that, whether all that plausible or no, sorta blew my mind.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:22 AM on August 6, 2010


David Hume's Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Principles of Morals (1737). But you can save yourself some time by finding a summary and getting the gist of his argument: that all human knowledge depends on the future being the same as the past, which it may or may not be, and therefore "certain" observations, like the laws of physics, may or may not be 100% certain.
posted by Galen at 10:48 AM on August 9, 2010


A Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman

Molecules Of Emotion: The Science Between Mind-Body Medicine by Candace Pert

Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief by Newberg, D'Aquili, Rause
posted by nickyskye at 4:04 PM on August 9, 2010




Nthing Good Calories, Bad Calories.
posted by zeek321 at 12:02 PM on August 26, 2010


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