Opening Quotations: Hermann Hesse Displaces Rudyard Kipling and M. C. Esher

Most sections of Cognitive Productivity have an opening quotation. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed choosing them. I’ve also appreciated the positive feedback I’ve received from readers about them.

Because Cognitive Productivity is a Leanpub book, I’ve been able to improve it significantly over the last several months. (I’ve updated it 164 times.) Today I want to comment on a minor change. I’ve replaced the two opening quotations for the book itself. Out are

If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim. Rudyard Kipling

My work is a game, a very serious game. M. C. Escher

The If quotation was meant to emphasize that there is more to cognitive life than cognition itself. In particular, there’s more to knowledge than thinking. We should also seek to use knowledge to transform ourselves.

The Escher quotation is a multi-pointer:

  • Knowledge work is serious but it is also fun.
  • The pairing of work and play points to the critical concept of meta-effectiveness (which is mainly what this book is about). Meta-effectiveness is the ability and disposition to improve oneself. The former is also known as “fluid expertise” (the ability to acquire expertise). The latter corresponds to another new concept in this book, namely “effectance” — the propensity to use knowledge to improve oneself. Those are the key, high level ingredients to developing expertise.
  • The Escher quote also points towards recursion —a technique of which Escher was the master and that is used extensively in the book. I won’t spoil the fun by pointing out the doughnuts. On the subject of recursion, I recommend Douglas R. Hofstadter’s classic, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. I was inspired by Elgar’s Enigma Variations to draw out the recursion theme by way of an opening quotation. However, you don’t need to think explicitly about recursion to understand or benefit from Cognitive Productivity.

I feared that the opening quotations might fly over readers heads. So I tossed them.

Hesse’s fabulous Demian, which I’ve been re-reading, has yielded several opening quotations. (It also provided me with content for a talk I will give January 19th to the Beacon Unitarian Congregation: Emotion as Perturbance. I will blog about that later as it is part of a larger project that is very pertinent to cognitive productivity.) There is now a single opening quotation for Cognitive Productivity. Demian tells Emil Sinclair:

Only the ideas that we actually live are of any value. (p. 52) Hermann Hesse

The raison d’être of Cognitive Productivity is mainly that. It is too easy to have knowledge and yet not be disposed to act upon it. Inert knowledge—or, more precisely, inert mindware —leads us to behave in ways that contradict what we understand, know, or believe to be the case; it is a major source of irrationality. We all suffer from it. (Have you ever double-booked yourself?)

Demian (the character) gets frustrated with Emil Sinclair, who (fictionally) writes “Though he delivered his ideas in a pleasant and perfunctory manner, he [Demian] still could not stand conversation for its own sake, as he once told me. In my case, however, he sensed—besides a genuine interest—too much playfulness, too much sheer pleasure in clever gabbing, or something of the sort; in short, a lack of complete commitment.” (p. 52) To paraphrase a dear incisive friend of mine: It is one thing to read about our heroes; it is another thing to emulate their heroism.

Cognitive Productivity addresses the difficult challenge: What can we do to ensure that we act in accordance with pertinent, high-caliber knowledge? My book is not the final answer to this question. I hope it at least helps readers understand the problem and how it can be addressed.

Published by

Luc P. Beaudoin

Head of CogZest. Author of Cognitive Productivity books. Co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp. Adjunct Professor of Education, Simon Fraser University. Why, Where, and What I Write. See About Me for more information.

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