November 29, 2022


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Review of Stephen Klein's book "How to Change the World"

Review of Stephen Klein’s book “How to Change the World”

A non-fiction author should think carefully about the title he would give his work: for if he promised so much, his book might shine through all possible qualities, but still hard to forgive for misleading. Stefan Klein chose the title “How We Change the World – A Brief History of the Human Soul” for his new book. He made his decision!

The short book – 240 pages of loosely designed text – shouldn’t be blamed on it – it was advertised in the title, and could be an advantage. Provided the author knows exactly what he wants and has a solid concept. But this is a problem.

It begins with the fact that he never thinks about what it would be like in reality, the human mind. The soul seems to tacitly replace the English “mind” and throw off all its German oscillations between ghost and world spirit. You can do it, but you have to explain it. This neglect is subsequently repeated with intelligence, especially artificial intelligence, which Stefan Klein remains somewhat open, since here at best the boundary between algorithm and consciousness operates.

The book is the best in the beginning, as it describes the enormity of the first human inventions

Then there is creativity, the real keyword of the book! Reckless and obedient to authority, Klein relies on the high public appreciation of such figures as Mozart, Picasso, Leonardo and Einstein, whose names continue to appear without taking into account the specifics of their achievements. It is not noted that Picasso, for example, also produced some modest objects. Klein’s inappropriate idea of ​​the essence of art, which remains a creative field par excellence, can be seen on page 164, where he presents a portrait of the Mona Lisa – executed as a pencil drawing. That’s enough for him when he needs Leonardo.

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The most interesting and most worthy of reading is the book at the beginning, where it describes the enormity of the first human inventions, the making of fire and the hand axe, and here the brevity becomes a real balm. The already obvious allegory was set by Hermann Barzinger in his unjustifiably critically acclaimed “Children of Prometheus” as the starting character; Klein called his introduction “We are Prometheus.” Barzinger invents the hand-axe twenty times, so to speak, by giving each of the dozens of prehistoric cultures that existed on this planet before the invention of writing their own image—regardless of the fact that all of these bits and shards have a grueling family resemblance. Fortunately, Klein shortens it. He carefully selects the objects of interest to him and can illustrate the difference between the first stone tools in East Africa three million years ago and cave paintings dating back 30,000 years, which are completely different in their symbolic content.

Stefan Klein: How we’re changing the world. A Brief History of the Human Mind. S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2021. 270 pages, €22.

However, the further he moved towards the present, the less he knew how to provide. Ancient camels pile up like the egg of Columbus and Archimedes, who jump out of the bathtub with the exclamation point “Eureka.” But it is precisely these tales that serve the cult of genius, from which Klein really wants to stay away when he repeatedly emphasized: “Because new things arise among people, and not in a single brain.” This is just culture.

He is definitely right. It is not easy to understand why he continues to strive hard for neuroscience, the science of the individual brain. The book begins to crumble and lose its luminous value by following two paths that do not fit together at once, the neuro-individual and the collective-cultural path. Incidentally, it cannot be said that neuroscience has come so far with the individual brain: it is now able to determine the electrical currents and so forth of flowing in certain areas of the brain during certain mental activities – but how this connection arises and how the results behave in relation to The self-imagination that accompanies it, which remains a mystery at the present time.

Science, which is always exactly what matters but doesn’t know what is important, is totally badسيء

However, this does not deter the author from his belief in science. It provides a detailed report on a study of 622 test subjects, which aims to understand creativity. 622! Nothing should go wrong there. The procedure and its presentation in Klein deserve a closer look, because what is happening here is typical for both the science and its popularity.

First, intelligence, openness to new experiences, and originality are tested. how do you do that? Test subjects are allowed to think of as unusual ways to use bricks or ballpoint pens as possible. “The more original the answers, the higher the points in that discipline.” So originality is a discipline that can be classified according to points. Doesn’t that go against the essence of authenticity that is just emerging from the series? Who awards points according to what criteria? This appears to be a blind spot in the process. Then the participants have to identify the creative activities they engage in in their lives, mentioning in particular the invention of recipes, photography and diary writing. These are good signs of creative potential, apart from the obvious objection that these three hobbies are too oriented towards certain schemes and that the reward can easily arise in advance of the company’s addictive pasta. (Thomas Mann in “Zauberberg,” for example, rates the fact that Mrs. Stöhr perfected a hundred different sauce recipes as evidence of her stupidity.)

Then, thirdly, the quality of the creative result is checked, which occurs in such a way that its success is recorded, measurably reflected in performances or publications, regardless of the fact that this mainly reveals the characteristics of the audience – in a state of doubt, the best thing to praise And he enjoys what he already knows in one way or another as something completely new. And when one gets a creative selfie by all of these scales, it is compared to certain charts of brain activity. The scan then reveals a “strange pattern that researchers have dubbed the High Creativity Network”. O miracle: he who is creative is creative! This wretched science, which is always accurate in what matters but does not know what is important – to put it at home: has a high level of reliability and a low validity – is completely spoiled.

In terms of content and intellectual power, this volume is thus far inferior to what Jürgen Kube, for example, managed to do with his book on a particular subject, The Beginnings of Everything. Klein, who has already written several books about time, chance, or the path from the Big Bang to a clone, is described in the blurb as “the most successful German-speaking scientific author.” If this is the case, it is not a glory paper for the German public and not good news for science.