Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hadot: The Present Alone is Our Happiness

I have finished re-reading Pierre Hadot's The Present Alone is Our Happiness: Conversations with Jeannie Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson
(2008 216 p.). This is my third reading. The first time in a hurry to take in this new delight, a second reading with highlighting to absorb his wisdom, and this time to savor the pleasure of his company. This book, interviews of the eminent French scholar of ancient philosophy and philosopher in his own right, gives me the experience of listening to a man who is genuinely interested in wisdom and learning. Hadot became a Catholic priest at an early age (during WWII), but his main interest seems to have been in philosophy and mysticism. Differences with the Church and the development of a love life lead him away from the priesthood, but not away from his philosophical and scholarly pursuits. After the first couple of chapters recounting personal history, the rest of the book addresses his scholarly and philosophical work, which includes works on Plotinus and Marcus Aurelius. Perhaps Hadot's greatest contribution to me comes from his teaching that ancient philosophy addresses the issue of how one lives and holds little concern for systems of thought. Ancient philosophy, starting with the paradigmatic Socrates, emphasized oral teaching about how one should conduct one's life. Ancient philosophers cared little for systematic consistency. Hadot thus instructs us about how to read Marcus Aurelius's Meditations and other like him (especially the Stoic and Epicurean traditions). Hadot, however, does not limit himself the ancients, as he reports his appreciation of Montaigne, Goethe, Bergson, and Wittgenstein, among others. (Goethe provides the quote for the title.) I could go on at some length praising Hadot's work and my enjoyment of it, but I suggest that instead we spend our time reading his work. (My previously posted comment on Hadot is here (item #23).

Colvin: Talent Is Overrated

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
by Geoff Colvin (2008, 206 p.) provides a nice compliment to The Talent Code (item #6). In sum, both books argue that talent comes from deliberate practice. Effort, in terms of meaningful practice, much more that genes make skillful performers. Colvin, like Coyle, focuses on some of the most skillful performers. Colvin talks about NFL receiver Jerry Rice and Tiger Woods (note publication date: 2008. We're talking strictly golf). He also discusses Mozart, among others. The overriding point: the amount of time spent in dedicated practice, even for a supposed prodigy like Mozart, provides the key to ultimate success in a field of performance. Colvin talks about all of the tangents of this issue: how to raise kids, applications of business, whether old people can still learn and perform (yes). He notes that Arthur Rubenstein, the great pianist who performed into his 89th year, slowed down in many areas, but last of all in his piano-playing skill. In fact, Rubenstein began to perform some sections slower in order to give the perception of increased speed in following sections when he couldn't perform them as fast as he used to. Old folks can be clever! Overall, a quick, entertaining read. The lesson of this books and Coyle's book may be summed up in the old Beatnik joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, man, practice. Perhaps a good book for teachers, coaches, and parents to share with students.