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Blog - Blogue

  • The Use of Books

    Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Iva Apostolova


    Old books on shelf

    Today, more so than ever before, the question of the use of books seems to be not only relevant but almost pressing. Reading books is time consuming, it requires prolonged attention as well as an exercise of reflection. However, the incessant electronic media information overload, the fast-paced modern life style, the often unrealistic demands of multi-tasking all make books seem, well, obsolete.  

    So, are books of any use to us today?

    I daresay they have more use than you might think. Picture for a second a printed book, its shiny cover and glossy pages. Now open it and give it a good sniff. Nothing like the smell of ink on paper, is there?! And when you think about it, it really is cheaper getting hooked on books than other stuff... The sound of cracking the book spine when ‘breaking’ the book into reading, is among other things, very soothing. One of the greatest philosophers of all time, Benedict Spinoza, was rumored to have indulged every night in taking books out of his, considerable for his time, collection of well over a hundred volumes, and caressing their leather bindings. Once again, from a cost-efficiency point of view, that’s probably a better stress-relief alternative to the shrink’s couch.  

    Printed books could also be used to prop or steady furniture around the house. I have a vivid image of my grandmother generously using Penguin pocket-books to level out the kitchen table whose one wobbly leg was often the cause for broken plates and spilled sauces.

    One should also never underestimate the use of printed books as effective pedagogical tools. I still remember being tapped on the head with heavy hard-cover English language textbooks by my dad in expression of his utter frustration with my forgetfulness of the English irregular verbs table. I can assure you that the tapping did wonders for my memory, language skills, as well as my motivation to learn.

    Books, printed or electronic, also have a proven soporific effect. If all else fails, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason should do the trick and induce immediate slumber!

    And if, god forbid, you ever thought of getting into the book-business, here is what Bertrand Russell, when asked to speak at a luncheon organized by one of the big British printing and book-binding companies in 1951, had to say, “If I had to give advice to a young man who hoped for literary success, I should advise him to study the lives of those who have produced the best sellers…. As he may learn from the author of Mein Kampf, [one thing to do is] to obtain the command of the best army going. But even more effective than this is the lesson to be learned from Stalin’s career, which is to obtain command of the secret police, and imprison anybody who does not buy your book, the effect on circulation is most satisfactory. These are the roads to really great literary success.”   


    Books in Wilson Room

  • Nike – Strive for Progress, not Perfection.

    Thursday, January 29, 2015
    Iva Apostolova


    Have you ever thought about what the Nike slogan actually means? It makes a connection between progress and perfection in favor of progress.

    Simple and clear, right? That’s what slogans are supposed to do, anyway – feed you a catchy phrase which does not require a lot of thinking but which, at the same time, states something everyone can relate to.

    But think again. Why should striving for anything be worthy in the first place? Why is progress more important than perfection? What is progress anyway? And how do we understand perfection?

    If you are already asking yourself these questions, then you are on your way to becoming a critical thinker.

    Critical thinking is one of those skills essential to discipline itself as well as to life in general--capabilities that philosophy helps develop.  

    To think critically, among other things, means to think for yourself, that is, to take what someone else says or does, evaluate it, and make a judgment on its value for you, those closest to you, or society, in general.

    To think for yourself is one of the hardest things to accomplish – it takes time, skills, and life experience. It is, just like philosophy, a work in progress.

    Not in the last place because being who we are (that is, social beings), we are constantly subjected to and hence vulnerable to the power of propaganda. In all its forms, propaganda is essentially information designed to manipulate. There are various degrees and ways of manipulation: by infusing true statements with false statements to increase believability, by throwing in a clever pun which makes you feel smart, by tugging on your emotions with carefully chosen words, or by simply attacking the senses with well-crafted images usually aiming at making you buy a product or service. The rise of the Third Reich during the WWII taught us that when people are financially cornered, scared, and ignorant, they become particularly susceptible to manipulation.

    Can you fully protect yourself against propaganda and manipulation? No, but you can become aware of it. 

    Being social means constantly relating to others on every possible level: intellectual, spiritual, emotional. It also means making mistakes in the process which, in turn, makes us all potential conjurers of manipulation.

    But becoming aware of manipulation will not only develop mechanisms for self-protection; it will accomplish something else, just as important, if not even more important. Critical thinking teaches attentiveness to detail and nuances. It trains one’s mind to see shades of grey where others see only black and white.

    Not every appeal to emotion is bad and not all clever words or images will skew your view of the world. If you keep your ideas honest, clear, relevant, accurate, and consistent, you have better chances of avoiding many of the traps of manipulation.