52 in 52 Book Summaries

Book Summary: The Social Animal by David Brooks | Forces of Habit

The Social Animal by David Brooks

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The Essence

In the form of a story, Brook’s attempts to dethrone what some would consider the center of the human experience; the conscious mind. Recent advancements in the science of the mind have been used to study the unconscious processes that influence our day to day lives such as our emotions, perceptions, and intuitions. Scientist's agree that a majority of what makes us human is not the autobiographical stories that we tell ourselves, it's the parts of the mind that we do not have awareness of. Brook’s offers an exploration into the depths of human experience to help us better understand why the relationship between our conscious and unconscious experiences is weighted against the logic we rely on heavily to organize ourselves in a social world. Logic and reason will only lead to superficial forms of achievement. It is only through our habits, perceptions, and other various unconscious mechanisms of the mind that we develop individual character.

The Social Animal Summary Journal Entry:

This is my book summary of The Social Animal by David Brooks. My notes are a reflection of the journal write up above. Written informally, the notes contain a mesh of quotes and my own thoughts on the book. The Journal write up also includes important messages and crucial passages from the book.

  • The 3 crucial points Brooks wants us to understand
    • The power of the unconscious: It is the powerhouse of our conscious experience.
    • The centrality of emotion: all actions converge or diverge from one visceral sensation or another.
    • Deep interpenetration of minds: We become who we are in conjunction with other people becoming who they are; we truly are social animals.
  • Noncognitive Skills: the catch-all term for the hidden qualities that cannot easily be accounted for.
  • Decision making is an inherently emotional business. Every choice is somewhat flavored in our current emotional state.
  • “A Brain is a record of life. The networks of neural connections are the physical manifestations of your habits, personality, and predilections.”
  • Fake it till you make it: If we are willing to commit to a behavior frequently enough, we become the identity that coincides it.
  • Change your environment if it is not benefiting you: a bad environment can overpower your conscious intentions by presenting the similar bad emotional cues.
  • As the Greeks say: We suffer our way to wisdom.
  • “Freedom without structure is its own slavery”.
  • Incompetent people have the tendency to be in denial about how incompetent they actually are.
  • We are overconfidence machines; overestimating what we know is both a blessing and a curse.
  • Limerence: a feeling of flow between our inner and outer worlds. We are constantly at battle with ourselves attempting to reach this state of harmony.
  • “The art of being wise is the act of knowing what to overlook.” –William James
  • Unconscious learning is mostly done through imitation. This emphasizes the importance of finding a mentor(s) to guide you.
  • Mistakes are important in learning. By interrogating ourselves, we learn to see what bias may be impacting our clarity of mind.
  • Steps of Learning
    • Knowledge Acquisition.
    • Automaticity; achieved through repetition. Expand and integrate the knowledge you have gathered
    • Disfluency; work with the thoughts, organize them in a meaningful way.
    • Take a stance. Make a position about what you have found.
    • Find feedback; edit your stance accordingly.
  • “Reason and emotion are not separate and opposed.”
  • Self-control is by far the one essential ingredient of a fulfilling life. PERIOD.
  • Failure is only a step towards growth.
  • Culture is the scaffolding of a house for a given group. It acts as a collection of habits, practices, beliefs, and other various predispositions that regulate human life.
  • Memory is less of a retrieval of information, and more of a reweave. No idea we have ever had is the same as it was before, our present moment transforms the makeup of our ideals. What we hold in our minds is therefore constantly being altered with every new case you remember something; we should be cautious of this.
  • Memory is not absolute, they represent fragmented versions of our subjective reality.
  • Epistemology: the study of how we know what we know.
  • Epistemological Modesty: the knowledge of how little we know and can know.
  • Events are not understood in isolation from its place in the flow of history. With an infinite possibility of prior events, minute causes can drastically alter the outcome of an event in ways we can never predict.
  • As we accept our place within the institutions inhabit, the rules that make up that institution become deeply rooted within us. Since I live in my college town, I have helped perpetuate a desire to learn. Internally, there is less friction between me and intellectual curiosity due to my inhabitance (working in my old college library).
  • Institutions are valuable! They inescapably merge with who we are.
  • “Party affiliation often shapes values, not the other way around.” The philosophies and perception often change, as the person unconsciously seeks to align themselves with the group it affiliates with.
  • Due to the internet, our minds are now becoming overwhelmed by the amount of information available. We cannot stop the speed & quantity that it is produced. But we can work to maintain a healthy relationship with how we receive loads of information.

Reading Recommendations

If you liked what you saw. Here are 3 titles that I recommend based on what is discussed in The Social Animal. 

  1.  The Road to Character by David Brooks
  2.  Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  3.  Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Find The Social Animal by David Brooks on Amazon: Print | Audiobook

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