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A groundbreaking new book from the bestselling author of Shop Class as SoulcraftIn his bestselling book Shop Class as Soulcraft Matthew B Crawford explored the ethical and practical importance of manual competence as expressed through mastery of our physical environment In his brilliant follow up The World Beyond Your Head Crawford investigates the challenge of mastering one's own mindWe often complain about our fractured mental lives and feel beset by outside forces that destroy our focus and disrupt our peace of mind Any defense against this Crawford argues reuires that we reckon with the way attention sculpts the selfCrawford investigates the intense focus of ice hockey players and short order chefs the uasi autistic behavior of gambling addicts the familiar hassles of daily life and the deep slow craft of building pipe organs He shows that our current crisis of attention is only superficially the result of digital technology and becomes comprehensible when understood as the coming to fruition of certain assumptions at the root of Western culture that are profoundly at odds with human nature The World Beyond Your Head makes sense of an astonishing array of common experience from the frustrations of airport security to the rise of the hipster With implications for the way we raise our children the design of public spaces and democracy itself this is a book of urgent relevance to contemporary life

10 thoughts on “The World Beyond Your Head

  1. says:

    “Genuine connection to others shows up in the vivid colors of defiance and forgiveness reverence and rebellion fighting and fucking the real stuff” ― Matthew B Crawford The World Beyond Your Head I read Shop Class as Soulcraft An Inuiry Into the Value of Work years ago and loved it I was enad of his story His last book was about excellence work education and engaging in a philosophy of work and empowering the type of education that enables students to have choices beyond the Ivory Tower In this his newest book this PhD in political philosophy motorcycle repairman looks at our attention and how we can get beyond our own heads He explores wow we can get past the active distractions that jockey for our attention through things tools interactions with the world and people real people not their representations He argues that the individual can't be viewed removed from her environment Unlike Kant or Descartes Crawford doesn't believe man can be moral or an individual without others without in fact interacting with things and others Best parts of this book are the sections on virtual reality I recently returned from a trip to MIT's Age Lab where I saw first hand robotic seals used to treat patients with Parkinson's and Alzheimers I drove MIT Agelab's AwareCar which they use to measure how different things make drivers distracted think iWatch vs iPhone It was weird to think of the overlap between car's being manufactured to remove our need for attention remote controlled breaking and paternalistic cameras and studies being done to help us to make cars that at once are less distracting and at the same time allow us to distract ourselves It becomes a weird circle that ends in oblivion or a car wreck Another chapter I loved was the chapter on Vegas and gambling How addictions and our attention interact and how big corporation feed off of that interaction I loved the section he focused on David Foster Wallace especially his books This Is Water Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occasion about Living a Compassionate Life and The Pale King Books that looked at how we use our attention and the bliss we can achieve through boredom I though his take on Wallace was certainly worth the price of admission on that sectionFinally I loved the long pre epilogue chapter on the Organ Maker's Shop I have an uncle or actually my wife has an uncle who makes and repairs organs and this chapter seemed to be a good illustration and summary of his whole thesis The shop was interesting and it served well to summarize his thesis and his solution to how to achieve individuality in this world of multiple hard core distractionsSo in general I liked this book Unfortunately I wanted to like it even If you are going to try to write a book that engages with a critiue of Kant Descartes and the liberalism they created you are going to need to bring your A game Crawford brought his B game in my opinion There were however moments of genius or wicked genius like this uote The basic design intention guiding Mercedes the last ten years seems to be that its cars should offer psychic blow jobs to the affluent Just sit back relax and think something pleasing The eyes take on a faraway glaze As for the other drivers there is a certain lack of mutuality So despite the genius of sentences like this I just wanted MORE from it I wanted a bit depth a bit precision a bit time This pipe just seemed like it was blown too soon

  2. says:

    Oh dear He's talking about me isn't he?More tough going than The Case for Working With Your Hands but still very rewarding Basically Matthew B Crawford is Ron Swanson with about 50 I points and without the Libertarianism I am afraid to give a summary of this book because I know I will fail to give it justice but here goes nothingIn short this book is about the politics of distraction Crawford makes a convincing case that our failure to give attention to the world and to instead rely on imperfect representations benefits corporate interests and hollows out our experience of life Only by re engaging with the world directly and safeguarding attention as common resource like clean air or water can we move forward successfully as a people and a society

  3. says:

    Reviewer Matthew Trevithick said This book is close to being uite good I'd agree There was a lot hard philosophy than I anticipated I'm not saying that's a bad thing but it did lead me to start the book in the wrong frame of mind Do I blame the cover copy? The title? The section on gambling was interesting The end section on restoring pipe organs nearly drove me out of my tiny mindThe book didn't feel like a whole but like a series of connected themes separated by reflections on Kantian ethicsOverall I'd prefer someone else read the same material and rewrote the book in an engaging wayNot a book I'd recommend I'll happily own it's due to my own deficiencies

  4. says:

    What's remarkable about this book is the lengths to which Matthew B Crawford goes in order to draw conclusions that are fairly unremarkableWhat begins as a book about the demands placed on our depleted supply of attention actually turns out to be a book about freedom Tim Keller has uite accurately I think noticed that modern people value freedom than goodness But Crawford points out that our current definition of freedom is one that suggests the human will is the strongest force in the universe We do not believe we ought to be limited by anything outside of our own heads By the end this book is about the burden that comes from having too many choices in a world that can be both thrilling and frustrating and the burden that comes from thinking we must abandon all ideas that come from other people Crawford's recurring thesis is that when we value our own independent will too much we actually are easy prey for advertisements that use the language of choice or sell us a world in which we have control over our environment even if it is just control over boredom We like this idea so much that we are entirely too susceptible to advertising's claimsHe organizes the book around two central ideas our bodies matter in how we engage with the world and other people matter as sources of community and insight Both premises are selected in order to challenge ideas of the autonomous self inherited from Enlightenment thinkers We do not operate merely as brains in buckets but we are in an environment that offers us affordances especially for those skillful enough to use them Also we do not operate as if time began when we were born but we are situated in a particular time and place in human tradition and we are better off if we can learn to live within those traditions benefitting from the wisdom of others rather than going it alone Crawford draws examples from airport advertisements hockey players children's cartoons and organ building and each example helps support and sustain his argument He is clearly attentive to the world around him and this pays off in rich illustrations that support his points His chapter on gambling addiction paints a particularly grim portrait of the heavy burden of choiceHis conclusions that our bodies matter and we need other people are actually my basic presuppositions As a Christian it was fascinating to watch Crawford reverse engineer the things of the world to discover that true freedom arises from submitting his words to the intractable ways of real things for example in learning the forces at play when riding a motorcycle He also notices from skilled craftsman that to be in conversation with a tradition is indeed a way of learning about the world that helps to get at the truth of things We do not need to think for ourselves; we need to learn from our elders and peers This vision of the self as dependent upon fellowship with fellow humans and inseparable from the created world is central to the Christian understanding of what humans are Even though he sees the world as created by vast impersonal forces Crawford simply concludes by the end that there is something benevolent in the disposition of things relative to us as if the world were created for our very use AmenAccording to Crawford all this emphasis on our own freedom leaves modern people feeling isolated and insecure We feel pressure to make our own decisons but we also feel anxiety in making choices No longer are we supposed to look to authority or to custom so we become slaves to public opinion Crawford points out that we increasingly look to social science surveys and social media I would add for confirmation about what is normal Crawford suggests that this has replaced religion saying the expert of normalcy becomes the new priest salving our souls with the offer of statistical communion 199He observes that in our hunger for freedom we have actually only traded our fathers in for new masters who are profiting from our shallow and unuestioning desire for autonomy We like to think of ourselves as free to choose so companies are only all too willing to present their products as solutions that offer us choices Crawford continually circles back to argue that we are seeking technology as a way of avoiding the frustrations of the real world and the level of skill it takes to appreciate and navigate the real world We touch the world with a data glove I love that phrase and that makes us eager to prefer designed abstractions that help make the world intelligible and navigableBy the end of the book there is still no clear solution He is concerned that we give too much of our attention away to the advertisers who makes bids for it but many of his observations though accurate do not offer strong condemnation or obvious solutions This book looks deeply into the underlying patterns of the world we live in and draws conclusions that any Christian can agree with but for all of his concern about living in the realworld among real people his conclusion is rather ethereal and impractical Even though he has just spent a great deal of energy explaining how hard it is for the modern person to express firm opinions about beauty he calls us agnostic about all kinds of value unable to even assert preferences in music without consulting other people first his final charge is simply to allow things of beauty to draw us out of our own heads Throughout the book it seems Crawford has some very specific ideas about what we should and should not find beautiful but by the end he leaves it up to by his measurement the insecure and easily led reader It's a long way to come to end up exactly where you started

  5. says:

    35 stars Like the other comments say this book is close to being uite good but clearly needed a tougher editor the guiding idea which is generally that our attention is the most precious resource we have but it's increasing exploited not exactly a breakthrough but his observations on fixing this are interesting is a strong one but it's watered down whenever the book loses focus which happens uite a bit The book does get off to a very strong start but as I continued reading the likelihood that I would recommend it to anyone decreased substantially as did my highlighting of interesting concepts Also a few oddly placed swears ruined the flow for me I've never seen a sentence regarding Kantian ethics include 'fuck' nor did it seem necessary which was the first and only time it was used in the book which again makes me think about a first draft editor issue And we get that the author loves motorcycles Good God

  6. says:

    For me a millennial and highly prone to intuition this book was therapeutic Crawford lays out through a history of ideas and practices how we have lost our attention to the world And his prescription is a heavy dose of tradition and work that forces extension of our agency and genius in the physical world

  7. says:

    Attacks on digital technology for destroying our capacity for attention are a dime a dozen Despite its title Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head is not such an attack It is far ambitious Somewhat to my surprise it is a direct assault on the Enlightenment for ruining the habits of mind and practice that lead to human flourishing Crawford says modern man is subject to delusions birthed by the Enlightenment that diffuse our perception of the world in a fog of unreality He therefore sets himself up in as the paladin of reality a champion badly needed by our times offering a return to the solidity of the real through excellence as developed in skilled practicesCrawford is well known for his classic work Shop Class as Soulcraft which has a similar but less philosophical focus on the real with an emphasis on the value of manual work Other recent books such as Alexander Langlands’s Craeft also discuss the concrete works of the hand as essential to re confer lost critical elements of a good society The World Beyond Your Head offers a complete argument for what is wrong with how we view the world and how we should view it instead Yes perhaps we should largely uit the digital world but that is not really a matter with which Crawford concerns himself and is not the root of the problem rather a symptomThis is not a polemical or a political book It is dense and as a result rewards close attention and re reading of passages But its purpose the recentering of our humanity is clear from the very first since the book’s epigraph is a uote from Vincent van Gogh “The great thing is to gather new vigor in reality” Such vigor has been destroyed by “the coming to fruition of a picture of the human being that was offered some centuries ago” That picture at root is of man as able to be wholly autonomous and to interact with the world through subjective representations of the world rather than directly with the world as it really is This method of viewing reality is a basic error that harms the individual and society as a whole But there is a solution willed attention to concrete practices that reuire skillThe key present manifestation of the problem Crawford begins by saying is the enormous number of demands on our attention from being bombarded by advertisements at all times especially when we are a captive audience to email and text communication Silence is no longer golden A perfect example I can offer though not covered in this 2015 book is how Netflix now when browsing selections if you rest for than a second on any possible choice in the menu auto plays a huge blaring jumpy trailer—which you cannot turn off That is you cannot browse and consider any choice reading a summary at your own pace without continual slamming booming demands to watch right now which also give away the plot of the show offered As Crawford says everywhere silence has become a luxury good available for example only to wealthy people in public places like airports when it is available at allHis objection is not merely the chaos True we face the paradox of choice that too much choice itself makes it difficult and frustrating to choose And he is concerned that we have lost the ability among the noise to choose what to value But his real objection is deeper—that each of us has lost the ability to have our choices “answered for us by settled forms of social life” We have been liberated; we are all autonomous individuals and so “we often find ourselves isolated in a fog of choices” with no basis to choose even if we cut through or ignore the noise Into the gap steps “massification” shades of José Ortega y Gasset commodified and commercialized “ironically under the banner of individual choice” This choice regardless of whether it should be exalted is not contrary to what we are told a “welling up of our authentic self” but the result of massive social engineering designed to profit from us This combination of atomized choice with being led around by the nose leads to “hassle” not to joy and this our living in the “age of distraction” with “a partial view of the human person” is a major reason modern life as so lived is the opposite of flourishing instead subject to innumerable pathologiesThus some of Crawford’s objection is to the mass consumerism that characterizes our society the bastard child of the Enlightenment and corporate neoliberalism We are encouraged to buy buy buy and to free ourselves from any part in the web of society So for example I have noticed a recent extremely aggressive trend to encourage women to buy for themselves expensive items such as jewelry traditionally bought for them as gifts by men who are their husbands or boyfriends No doubt our corporate overlords have noticed that the massive numbers of women whom they in past decades encouraged to choose an assertive corporate career are now as a direct result single childless and lonely but also have plenty of money to desperately spend on this fresh fantasy of siloed self completeness The dissolution of all unchosen bonds the result of Enlightenment philosophy filtered through the modern Left and allied with worship of the market leads inevitably to this pathos examples of which could be multiplied all day long It feels like individual choice but it really a dank prison of the soulThe answer Crawford says or part of the answer is for each person to fight back to create a “coherent” “situated” self through skilled practices This is education in opposition to massification and allows us to control and guide our mental environment rather than living as a rat in a maze Skilled practices hemmed in by reality allow focus and individual growth We resist this because “the experience of attending to something isn’t easily made sense of within the prevailing Western anthropology that takes autonomy as the central human good” The opposite of autonomy heteronomy being ruled by something outside your own head is a threat to this Enlightenment anthropology If there is a simple summation of this book it is that autonomy our brazen idol since John Stuart Mill should and must yield to and be balanced with heteronomyIt is no wonder we worship autonomy—it is flattering to us But it is false The world constrains us whether we admit it or not and through proper disciplined attention to those constraints the “framing conditions” of our life we can become fully human This is really simply the “ordered freedom” of the pre Enlightenment philosophers; Crawford prefers to drop the term “freedom” as carrying too much baggage and focus on “agency” rightly ordered human action through which we “reclaim the real” But either way the point is the sameThat’s all at the start of the book The rest is exposition and expansion We start with jigs Given that we have only so much mental capacity in order to accomplish we have to find ways to streamline mental activity For someone undertaking a skilled practice this is done by a jig—a term taken from woodworking and metalworking but applicable broadly to any method of constraining mental choice in order to better accomplish a goal For example how a short order cook arranges instruments and ingredients is a jig This is different from Cass Sunstein’s “nudge” for which Crawford has thinly veiled contempt because it is executed by the practitioner in coordination with the reality of his tools his goal and his environment including that of other people not something imposed by an outsider divorced from the matter at hand The only reason nudges from the administrative state exist is because they replace “cultural jigs” that is the embedded social practices that used to guide our lives which we destroyed by the idolization of the autonomous self And because of that destruction we are nudged continuously by the consumer state so than even by the administrative state We seek total freedom and we instead are corralled And this results in even damaging effects on those sections of society that are not wealthy and lack the capacity for self regulation; the dismantling of the “marital jig” in the name of personal autonomy has been enormously destructive of the lower orders of societyNext we turn to perception of the world beyond your head Crawford’s complaint is that in the modern world we are told that perception is representational subjective to the individual But this is false Perceptions properly viewed are actually wholly embodied in the world outside your head and as you become skilled your perceptions are accurate meaning in tune with reality If you are a motorcycle racer denying this is obviously catastrophic It is also catastrophic for others just less visibly so If we soften the boundary between ourselves and the world by using representations to filter and diffuse reality we distort our sense of agency placing ourselves at the center of a false view of the world Crawford cleverly contrasts old Mickey Mouse cartoons which show children the heteronomy of the natural world and how the cartoon characters react to it and overcome it by their own agency with the modern Mickey Mouse Clubhouse television show where all problems are solved for children by chanting “Oh Tootles” causing the Handy Dandy machine to appear offering a menu of godlike solutions from which the child chooses and which are executed by machines without the child’s needing to be involved in any way except observing No problem cannot be solved; the child’s autonomy from the world is always preserved through superior separation from it Here Crawford is openly contemptuous of this taught gelatinous narcissism “To pursue the fantasy of escaping heteronomy through abstraction is to give up on skill and therefore to substitute technology as magic for the possibility of real agency”For all this stepping back Crawford formally blames the Enlightenment project of autonomy culminating for these purposes in Immanuel Kant who “put the freedom of the will on a new footing where it will float free of all natural necessities” Unfettered choice unconstrained even by reality seems attractive but it is a snare and we become passive recipients of the representations of the world the false “manufactured experiences” offered by consumer capitalism; “those who present choices to us appear as handmaidens to our own freedom” It is a false freedom; as with today’s Mouseketeers “The fantasy of autonomy comes at the price of impotence”The extreme end of this is modern machine gambling In a fascinating chapter Crawford describes how the “gaming” experience is manipulated to offer the illusion of agency and choice but instead drives the freuent player to desire not winning but a nihilistic state of losing everything becoming wholly spent while merging with the machine all the while offering a false vision of acuired skill They call this “player centric design” It is horrifying Through this example Crawford attacks the libertarian Enlightenment falsehood that individuals are “radically responsible for themselves” as a destructive myth that gives those who wish to profit from us power over us We have absorbed the idea that we should not impose our values on others; thinking so “gives us a pleasant feeling we have succeeded in not being paternalistic or presumptuous” This leads to less autonomy as we are led around by the nose and “neutralizes our critical energies” Crawford never comes right out and says it but it’s pretty obvious he regards the entire Enlightenment project of autonomy as an unmitigated disaster “By keeping his gaze away from such facts the liberallibertarian keeps his own soul pure lest he commit the sin of recommending to others some substantive ideal one that will necessarily be controversial But outside his garden wall there are wolves preying on the townspeople” Take that John Stuart MillThe problem here is not gambling as such Low level vice of this type will always exist; the trick for a well run society is to limit it both in its overall scope and to the extent possible to that segment of society that is least damaged by it The pre 1980 American system where gambling was possible only in a few places or abroad and no lotteries were allowed was of this type Gambling one could not afford was strongly discouraged by the government and stigmatized by polite society a sound approach that disappeared under the twin hammers of politicians’ lust for voluntary self taxation and cries for autonomy framed as non judgmentalism When Foundationalism is in charge we’re returning to the old systemAnyway most of the rest of the book is detailed descriptions of several “ecologies of attention and action” that demonstrate embedded reality “embedded” is one of Crawford’s favorite words intertwined with philosophical ruminations tied to the subject matter The effect is somewhat rambling but well worth the read Before he gets there in “A Brief History of Freedom” Crawford machine guns John Locke for failing to see that his program for political freedom was destructive when taken beyond a narrow context and rejects the idea that reality is not self revealing but mediated through subjective representations This idea is so seductive and so bound up with our own exalted view of ourselves and our supposedly advanced society that it is difficult to argue against But that is Crawford’s project And while taking about the ecologies on which he focuses Crawford weaves in René Descartes Iris Murdoch David Foster Wallace G W F Hegel and Johann Fichte Also lots of Tocueville not only from Democracy in America but from The Old Regime and the Revolution And we get Friedrich Nietzsche for the proposition that “the great moments in the struggle of individuals form a chain and in them the high points of humanity are linked throughout millennia” Apparently the Bronze Age Mindset is alive and well among short order cooks motorcycle racers and organ makers the embedded realities on which Crawford focusesEcologies of attention are skills that are developed Review completes as first comment

  8. says:

    You'll see some one star reviews claiming boredom or two star reviews claiming too much hard philosophy This book is neitherWhat it rather is is a series of almost interesting conclusions that are brilliantly ran away from lest the author gets too close to actually making a hard point Perhaps most supportive of this observation is Crawford's Epilogue in which he admits that his treatment is only partial and seems to think that since philosophy is really just a method of figuring things out it's okay to be partialIt may be okay not to have a complete answer and needing to write to understand as Cecil Day Lewis might say; however Crawford is so slipshod with his work that this book is not a partial answer It is an incomplete tome replete with inadeuate arguments This is not hard philosophy This is haughty language masuerading as profundityThis is mostly due to the fact that Crawford simply refuses to actually unpack any of his observations situate them within the larger conversation and link that larger conversation to that argument This ends up being a misapplication or misunderstanding of psychological concepts misapplication or misunderstanding of economic concepts a misapplication or misunderstanding of philosophical concepts and delirious and simplistic non seuiturs that somehow get treatment than the broad strokes he uses for complex ideas His situation of the 'nudge' school of economy is woeful and seems to be euivocation he ends up bringing in virtue and character into an empirical economic discussion where it does not fully belong and he does not make it apparent exactly how an empirically researched idea is wrong though he claims so His understanding of Wallace's This is Water commencement speech borders college freshman logic and ventures deeply into the land of the straw man I was shouting at my car stereo while listening to this audio book pleading with Crawford to see his own contradictions or his insufficient analysisMany times Crawford relies on some weird speculation which hopefully at the time of his writing he considered to be rhetorically advantageous ends up sounding like a conspiracy theorist than a philosopher eg the muzak at your gym is deliberately chosen by a board room of individuals bent on attacking your individuationor something of that nature Crawford downright refuses to cite any credible or scholarly sources when there are than adeuate ones which Gladwell was able to do for The Tipping Point and Kaheman did in Thinking Fast and Slow It indicates an author concerned with setting his own head straight than giving anything meaningful to readers which again he readily admits This is not to say that this writing isn't useful to youbut it sure as hell isn't entertaining or useful for your readersThe worst of this armchair philosophy is that Crawford hides his pseudo philosophy behind the elevated language of philosophy which I can only guess is an attempt to obscure the fact that he simply does not give a full treatment to his arguments and ideas which he has a good one or two namely Attentional Commons or the fact that he doesn't uite grasp other concepts well Essayists are taught to give the illusion of following rabbit holes What that means is that you might wind around and go up and down but that the path always seems to lead somewhere worthwhile and in a non jarring way Crawford is not a writer of rabbit holes He is a writer who is sitting at a minefield throwing detritus into the field setting off random chain reactions that seem to start something promising only to prematurely endThe subtitle of the book seems truly obfuscated throughout Crawford spends time detailing the making of organs towards the end of the book than on complex subjects on which there is plenty of evidence and graspable arguments readily available I mean dear god how does someone cherry pick William James without at least accidentally finding the pragmatists who probably could have answered most of Crawford's uestions without bringing this book into the world Perhaps Crawford actually wanted to write an essay on organs and organists but someone unfortunately convinced him otherwiseI gave this book two stars instead of one because I hated it so much I had to finish it just to do the review a bit of justice That stoking of passion is admirable I suppose Please avoid this book Please avoid Crawford's ventures into indignant old man attitudes and pessimism Please read the aforementioned titles or Charles Peirce and the American pragmatists or actually take a class on existentialism and phenomenology Or watch some Youtube videos and TED Talks You will get out of life doing any of that than subjecting yourself to this argument salad

  9. says:

    Do yourself a favor and just read the epilogue I've read two of Crawford's books and finally have to say that he is one of the most obtuse writers I've ever read Smart Great ideas But he manages to write in the most uninteresting way It's such a plodding task to keep reading that he must have felt it too Every section ends with a recapitulation and you wonder Why didn't you just say that in the first place?

  10. says:

    I cannot say enough good things about this book Loved itRe reading it 2 years later that's how much I enjoyed this book