Monday, October 01, 2012

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: The Ego Trick

Julian Baggini, The Ego Trick
Granta Books, 2011

The Ego Trick is an engaging and approachable introduction to the trickiest of subjects and the blindest of blind spots: Who is this “I” person anyway?

As a Buddhist, I am familiar with how Buddhists challenge the idea of the self.  I lazily assumed the Buddhist way was the only way to take it apart – how wrong of me.  Baggini carefully examines the Buddhist view, with the help of Stephen Batchelor, the respected “atheist Buddhist”, and he finds much that is useful – and much that is unnecessary.

The book is enlivened by discussions with transgendered persons, theologians, transhumanists, psychologists, prostitutes and neuroscientists.  That he manages to include all these people in a way that seemed to me both a propos and respectful seemed to me a remarkable feat of both writing and sensitivity.  (That said, I would be especially interested to hear the response of transgendered persons to this book.)

This book is so lively and readable that it would serve as good company even at the end of a very long day, as you drink a glass of red wine and look to revive your weary mind.  Only the most crucial chapter, chapter 7, “The Ego Trick”, will require a clear head, a bright morning, and a strong cup of coffee.  Or maybe just a few re-readings.  But that is no problem at all, not for this, the trickiest of investigations!
I remember being a young man, sitting in a Buddhist monastery, listening to discussions about the nature of the self.  I felt like I sat there for years before I understood anything at all!  Baggini is a wizard of clarity – though, unlike a wizard, he endeavors to show you each part of the trick.

It is delightful  to find a work of popular philosophy that is so graceful, respectful and convincing.  I can’t imagine a clearer introduction to this subject, nor one as fun to read.  

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