The main claim of this smart, sensitive look at the most significant human behaviors is fourfold but unified. In order to forge a valuable, rich existence, the author says, people should pay attention to works of art, scrutinize the scientific research of today and of ages past, gather what they can from the impulse that gives rise to religious traditions, and seek transformative experiences. These are heady prescriptions, but White ingeniously defends them and their effectiveness with an intelligence and sophistication not often found in the self-help genre. The book begins with a discussion of the value of art as a practice integrated into all of human life. He explores the centrality of metaphors and analogies not just to art, but to all human knowledge: people learn, he says, by comparing the known with the unknown. He then offers an adventurous interpretation of science and religion as branches of the pursuit of wisdom—a pursuit that’s often riddled with uncertainty. He looks at spirituality as a process, not as a fashionable accessory. The book is rich with quotations, from Francis Bacon and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to 20th-century scientists and philosophers, grounding its recommendations in careful, approachable readings of brilliant thinkers. It’s a masterful inquiry and proposal about how people ought to live that never comes off as pedantic or outlandish. In prose and playful dialogue between fictional characters, it urges readers to examine the most fundamental questions about what has value. In a striking thought experiment, for example, White asks readers to imagine members of a society that knows nothing about violins capturing a ship with a violin on it and studying it extensively, even “playing” it. What, he asks, makes something valuable for us—or good, desirable, or praiseworthy?
Engagement with Science
Creating and Experiencing Art
Following a Religious Tradition
- Undertaking a Spiritual Journey
Humorist James Thurber advised, “All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why. This book explores the commonality between these four branches of the tree of life and the guidance they each provide for a fulfilling and meaningful life.
“A wide-ranging, well researched guide to examining what life’s all about.” In his debut work, White, in an easy-to-read format, guides readers through issues that have perplexed and challenged him over the years—and that have troubled sages and other thinkers for centuries. He begins by addressing how people make the decisions, both major and mundane, that shape their lives; he then explores the forces that guide people’s determinations, such as culture, reason, intuition and mere whim, and discusses them all in depth. White goes on to ask how people know what reality truly is and introduces a wide variety of worldviews across the globe (and across time), showing that concepts of “truth” or “reality” can differ depending upon one’s time and place. The same is true of human values, the author writes, and he then addresses the larger question of where such values come from, examining biology as well as culture. Overall, he advocates keeping an open mind when discovering one’s own values, choices and telos, or purpose in life. The author’s depth of research is impressive, as he quotes and discusses writers and thinkers as diverse as Friedrich Nietzsche and Henry David Thoreau. Despite this erudite approach, however, White’s book functions more as a self-help guide than a pure work of philosophy. For example, he sometimes uses dialogues to further illustrate and enliven his arguments, setting up discussions between “Skeptico” and “Wisdom Seeker,” and he also adds “Thought Experiments” to help readers better understand the material. Some readers, especially those facing existential or mere midlife crises, will likely find White’s work thought-provoking.
“A fine introduction to exploring life’s biggest questions.”
How should I Live?
On what shall I base my decisions?
What is truly important?
You will find On Being Human valuable in your personal quest, for it takes a broad, holistic view – exploring how psychology, art, science, religion, relationships, culture, mythology, philosophy, and the world¹s wisdom traditions are all involved in coming to terms with the full range of human emotions and possibilities. Including all, it leads toward their integration in living a fulfilled human life.
On Being Human and Art, Science, Religion, Spirituality are published by Meaningful Life Books.