Changing the way we think
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - August 4, 2019 - 12:00am

My favorite weekend reading are interesting books that also offer amusement. One such book is 1001 Ideas That Changed The Way We Think edited  by Robert Arp. In a brief review of the book, the publisher wrote: “Our view of the world has come about through the questions, theories, speculations, and hypothesis raised by many brilliant individuals over millennia...This wonderfully diverse book celebrates history’s most groundbreaking ideas and is a resounding treatment to the powerful thought.”

Ideas were divided into the following categories – Art and Architecture, Philosophy, Politics and Society, Psychology, Religion, Science and Technology. These ideas would include Literature, Idealism, Rationalism, Art of War, Communism, Meritocracy, Oedipus Complex, Psychoanalysis, Agnosticism, Antibiotics, Chaos Theory, and Paradigm Shift. The most fascinating entries were those ideas I never imagined “changed the way we think”. Some are actually amusing. Here are a few:

Animation: Images are made to seem to move when viewed using a remarkable machine. In 1888, Reynaud created a large scale system which was able to project the moving images of the praxinoscope onto a screen. He produced three short movies which he called the “Pantomimes Lumineuses” which was the world’s first instance of projected animated cartoon movies.

Walt Disney said, “Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive.”

Ballroom dancing: A style of formal dancing originally practiced only by members of high society as distinct from folk dancing for the poor. In 1588 the French cleric Jehan Taborout wrote a study of formal French dancing which established dance etiquette and how dancers and musicians should interact. In 1819, Weber wrote a piano piece “ Invitation to the Dance” which inspired the waltz, a dance that shocked society by bringing male and female dancers into close contact.

Modern ballroom dancing is classified into five international standard  dances – the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot and quickstep – and five international Latin dances – the samba, cha-cha-cha, rumba, paso doble and jive. What was once a diversion of high society is now mass entertainment and social pastime for millions.

Types of friendship. All friendships fall within one of three categories of increasing perfection. According to Aristotle there are three different types of things people like and three corresponding types of friendships. People like things that are useful to them; and, so there are friendships based on utility. People like pleasure and so there are friendships based on pleasure. Finally, some things are inherently likable because they are inherently good and so there are friendships between good people based solely upon their virtuous characters.

Friendships among business associates and politicians are weakest because they are friends for utility. Friendships based on pleasure are most common among the young and are tenuous because people’s pleasures change as they grow older. Aristotle said: “Perfect friendship is the friendship of men that ARE GOOD AND ALIKE IN VIRTUE.” They are the most enduring because the benefits are the same for both participants; but, they are likely only among the old because “...it takes many years of experience before one’s virtues are sufficiently refined to enter into a perfect friendship.”

Supply and Demand is the use of a combination of mathematics and economic principles to predict trends. The first person to describe this principle  was not an economist but the French mathematician and philosopher Antoine Cournot ( 1801-77). He constructed the first formula for predicting how the rule of supply and demand might affect the price of an item or a service. He more or less invented the modern discipline of econometrics, the ability to measure economic theory and apply it to realistic everyday situations.

Morality of Terror. On Feb. 5, 1794, Robespierre wrote “Report on the Principles of Political Morality” which argued that the Republic could be saved from its enemies through terror because it was necessary in order to achieve higher political goals. As a result, 16,594 people in France were executed during this period of Terror including Robespierre himself.

For the first time in history, terror became an official government policy. According to Arp, this is a “...horrifying example of how a noble idea, such as virtue could be twisted out of all recognition to become a logical justification for tyranny and violence.”

Robotics. Machines that reproduce human physical and/or mental capabilities. As far back as the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci sketched a humanoid robot; and in the 18th century Jacques de Vaucanson designed a mechanical duck that could move its wings and swallow food. In 1920, Czech science fiction writer Karel Capek first used the word “robot” in his play “Rossum’s Universal Robots” which decries a futuristic world of humanlike beings or “artificial people”.

With the processing power of computers growing so fast, scientists predict that by 2050 robotic brains will be capable of executing 100 trillion commands per second and will begin to rival human intelligence.

There are hundreds of other ideas here worth reading like how modern science has shown that a butterfly’s wing can stir up an Atlantic storm and the mathematical proof of the existence of life in other galaxies. There are serious topics like Gandhi’s civil disobedience and St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence of God. Ideas and the mind are indeed humanity’s most powerful assets.

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on Aug. 17 (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration, email writethingsph@gmail.com

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

THAT CHANGED THE WAY WE THINK
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