It was literally 25 years ago when I sat across from my then Literary Agent in a Piccadilly café and listened to her explain to me why my idea for a book, good as it was, simply wasn’t going to fly.
I’d been proposing a look at how we deal with the ever present issue of uncertainty in a world that is only seemingly ordered and concrete. To explain this further I need to take you back in time. My Chemical Engineering training still fresh, my work as a journalist writing in tech and finance, relatively new. I could see, back then, how the order we sensed in the world was imposed by the way we chose to use our minds.
These choices then reflected what we ended up believing in which defined reality for us. The definition we use for reality is important because eventually culture and all our value system springs from it. “No one’s going to get this stuff,” she said to me, “you need to approach it in a way that fits into a trend and a publisher can ‘get’ how to sell.”
I’m not suggesting for an instant that she was wrong. Back then the internet had only just begun to make itself felt and even then in the dubious harmonics that signaled the handshake between 33.6kb modems which was how we first began to experience the web.
Windows 95 was barely a few months old back then and here I was suggesting that as the flow of information increased; our sense of the real and the unreal would erode unless we understood what it was that drove us to seek reassurance and had some way to handle it. Our need to feel secure enough for our brain to be able to predict the next best moment has the capacity to lead us into ever more logically unsound behavior.
“Decision making is predicated on our ability to really see the world,” I reasonably argued. “This is something that historically has never changed. Understanding how we evolve allows us to make better choices about how we develop.”
“Yes, but-” she began, and went on to take my argument apart by citing publishing trends that had put David Letterman's Book of Top 10 Lists and Tim Allen’s Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man, at the top of the bestselling charts. “You need something with a bit of populist sensationalism,” she concluded, “the kind of thing that entertains more than makes people think.”
I tried. If you’ve read Brains, Minds and Hearts you know I’ve tried to make it entertaining but I was young and I was earnest and I really thought that thinking about things, even if that thinking took place in as light a manner as possible, was exactly what we needed in order to face the 21st century that, at the time, was just five short years away and which I could see was going to bring with it a whole raft of challenges.
The book came out of course. Originally titled “Revelations” it was couched in terms of “a scientist explains the parallels between science and magic” and promoted as a crossover book for those who were interested in metaphysics, the occult and, of course, science.
It sold alright for the first three-four months but the internet was not yet truly a place to promote anything back then, I was still relatively unknown (unless you were looking for cutting-edge finance or tech articles) and John Gray’s Mars and Venus in the Bedroom was sucking up all available airtime for books. So it was one of those moderate successes that didn’t lose the publisher money but failed to ignite with the audience.
Fast forward to today. A string of high-profile, successful books under my belt and hot on the success of The Sniper Mind and even if I’d kept my pitch exactly the same as it’d been 25 years ago I’d have got a different response.
My agent, of course, is different. And my publisher has changed. But really the real difference is us. The world. We understand more now about how science works. We understand that human behavior is governed by circumstances, that choices are made through emotion, that given the same constraints in a similar environment men and women behave in much the same way even if they come from different backgrounds and speak different languages.
We know that the brain, complex as it is, is capable of fooling itself. We understand the power of wishful thinking and the ability of visualization to change perception which changes behavior and leads to different actions that have different outcomes than the ones immediately apparent to us.
The fluidity of the world, we now know, is the result of the ability of our perception to completely change our sense of reality. This change then leads to different assessments. Our assessments are supported by sensations of what is possible and what isn’t. Those sensations give rise to feelings that power thoughts. We may want to think that we are thinking machines that feel but in fact we are feeling machines that think and the order thoughts arise in our head is always like this:
- Physical sensation
This is why Brains, Minds and Hearts is so important. In the title I’ve knowingly reflected the order in which we usually think we are built. In truth it is the exact opposite but the mind is always in the middle. That’s important. How we process what we feel is key to what we end up thinking.
In some ways the book is the foundational basis of everything I’ve been writing about this last quarter century. At the same time it’s a fresh, largely informational and maybe a little bit entertaining, look at how the world we live in got to the point it is today and what perhaps we need to keep in mind, moving forward.
This time round, when I talked about the book’s focus there was the nodding of heads. And this time, as I seemingly appealed to brains, I actually knew for a fact that it was hearts persuading minds that were making the decision.