Sometimes people send me books to review. For free! This is one of them.
For two months, I never slept a whole night through.
I would wake at three to fret and ruminate and wonder whether some, any of the money I was owed would come in, whether I could keep afloat for another week.
My concentration had been shot-gunned at close range, more holes than substance. I desperately needed to get it all together so I could fix the problem, but it was impossible.
I was wise.
I didn’t push myself to write or promote, no matter how urgent it was. I ate when logic dictated. I marched myself to yoga nearly every day. I did breathing exercises and tried to stay nonjudgmental. I knew what was happening.
In time, sleep and my concentration returned. I stopped flinching at loud noises. My appetite returned. I started producing work again.
If you want to know why I couldn’t sleep, and why yoga was a superior choice to trying to cudgel my brain into writing, then you should read The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings and the Biology of Boom and Bust.
John Coates uses stories from the financial markets to discuss our biochemical reactions to short stress and long stress, to explore our sympathetic nervous systems, and why the phrase “gut feelings” is more accurate than we tend to think.
Scientifically, and I am a big science geek, this is fascinating stuff.
But he goes so much deeper into the significance of our biology. What it means for our work. Why the idea of “economic rationalism” is rubbish, and dangerous rubbish at that.
Why we – I – switch between “This could never go wrong, ever” elation and “We’re all gonna die in a ditch and no-one will even come to the funeral, oh woe” despair. (And maybe, what to change so that pattern doesn’t destroy us.)
And most beautiful and compelling of all, this book contains the most thorough squishing of the concept of mind/body duality I have ever read.
I’m as guilty as anyone of regarding my body as the vessel that carries my oh-so-important mind around. For most of my life I never questioned the idea that the purpose of the body is to deliver vital nutrients to the mind so it can do all the meaningful stuff.
So when I got to this line, I had to put the book down.
“Neuroscientists have discovered that conscious, rational thought is a bit player in the drama that is our mental life… the basic operation of the brain is the organization of movement.”
Take a moment, let it sink in.
The brain grew in order that we might move our bodies more dynamically, subtly, cleverly.
How often I – we! – slump in front of the computer all day, saying, “I’ll go for a walk later. I just need to write this first. I know I said that yesterday, but this is important.” This attitude makes some sense if we regard our bodies as badly-maintained but functional robots, moving our Big Important Brains around.
But if our brain exists to make movement, then we are dumb (in the most literal of senses) when we ignore our body.
I’ve known that, logically, for years. But this book helped me feel it. Changes are already happening as a result.
It’s an economics book, and a physiology lecture, and a philosophical treatise. And it’s very, very good.
I’ve already recommended it to four of my peers.
I can’t do a balanced review! All I can say is, “The Hour Between Dog and Wolf is super-insightful, and you should read it.”
So, yeah. You should.