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Thoughts on Active Reading and the Lure of Insanity

Reading by itself, I don’t think, is sufficient enough to build the vocabulary and expand the mind and the intellect and the mental processes, not even the active reading that Adler recommends in his book on reading. I think it takes not only active reading, but real participation, which is to say, writing and doing. Writing about the thoughts and ideas you’ve read about and doing things that would help you to further understand such ideas. In this writing and doing (this truly interactive form of reading) the vocabulary will increase as will the mind to new ideas, for ideas are all we bags of water and chemicals have to keep us from going insane during our journey from birth to death. Of course sometimes insanity grips the mind and, well, you give in and go with it and suffer until you die, or until the insanity frees its grip from your mind. Of course I wonder, is insanity all that bad? Would it not be wonderful to go completely mad and be put away in some comfortable white room; away from society, people, burdens, duties, taxes, relationships, marriage, holidays, parties, gift buying, gift wrapping, gift giving, forced courtesy and forced smiles? I sometimes think that this would be fine for a little while. Now, how does one make himself mad?


I found your blog because you also listed Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance as a favorite book. Not too many choose that one. :-)

The fine line between sanity and insanity is one that religion and philosophy has tried, but failed, to define. My view, which I must qualify as coming from a non-religious person, is that the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden portended the fate of mankind and the burden of consciousness.

Akin to children, Adam and Eve's early days in the garden were marked by happiness, bliss and utter oblivion to their nakedness. At some point, the serpent (society) duped Eve into eating from the tree of the knowledge of the difference between good and evil. Adam followed suit and the two were banished from paradise as a result. They were no longer innocent, blissful and thereafter had full awareness of their nakedness. This is, of course, because with the knowledge of good and evil comes responsibility and consequence. And with responsibility and consequence comes anxiety over which to choose when the line between the two is not readily apparent.

I would posit that most people who are "insane" are people who refuse to accept that they have been banished. Instead, they have amassed emotional defense mechanisms to avoid responsibility because they are terrified of the consequences. They are women who get married and relinquish all brain activity to their husbands; they are people who use phrases like "I wish I was a kid again when I didn't have responsibilities"; they are those who, in essence, can't handle the burdens of life outside the garden.

Active reading should provide the tools to cope with that banishment. Helping to develop self-awareness to make good decisions and to accept the consequences when decisions do not have ideal outcomes. Insanity is an attempt to return or a consequence of the attempt to return to the Garden, but the path is blocked by cherubs and fire.

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