HOW WE UNDERSTAND THE WORLD
Around 2002, after Alan had written yet another very long book with many footnotes on the origins of the modern world, his close friend Gerry Martin, a retired industrialist who wrote the book on The Glass Bathyscaphe with him, suggested that if he was going to have a real influence, he should try to write short, simple, books summarizing his ideas: Macfarlane on... Liberty, Equality, Individualism or whatever.
Alan took his advice and placed an imaginary grand-daughter, Lily, before himself (imaginary because she was only eight, but he imagined her to be a late teenager) and tried to answer thirty questions which he had struggled with over his life - What is love, what is friendship, what is democracy etc. So, Alan wrote Letters to Lily, published in 2005. Partly at the urging of Lily, he then wrote another small book for her sister Rosa, on 'How to Investigate the World'. The idea was to do something similar to Descartes’ Essay on Method, just a very simple overview of complex things.
A few years later, a leading Chinese publisher asked him to write some sequels to his book for Lily, and he agreed to do so. In each case Alan would choose a favourite person – often the son or daughter of a close friend or a particularly important person in my life – and wrote directly for them. He wrote nine 'Master's Letters to Young Chinese' to give answers to some of the biggest questions had encountered in my life.
All the studies will be published in Chinese as well as English.
A lecture given by Alan at Sichuan University in 2016 title ‘How to Understand the World’ can be found here.
How to Discover the World Reflections for Rosa by Alan Macfarlane
‘Make things as simple as possible - but not simpler. It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong. Write first; think later’
Alan Macfarlane has spent sixty years trying to understand the world. He has studied for two doctorates at Oxford and London and traveled through Nepal, Japan and China. In Reflections for Rosa he tells us what he has found out about asking questions, guessing, testing, assembling evidence, creative writing and the conditions of creativity. The book complements his Letters to Lily.
How To Investigate Mysteries Secrets for Sam by Alan Macfarlane
This book explains the methods used by two of the greatest detectives in history to solve mysteries: Auguste Dupin, Edgar Allen Poe’s detective who solved the problems of the Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter, and Sherlock Holmes, who solved many cases including The Speckled Band and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Alan Macfarlane, a retired Professor of Anthropology, has found the method very useful in approaching the largest questions in anthropology and history, an equivalent in the arts and social sciences to the methodological rules laid down by the French philosopher and mathematician Descartes. Please click here for more information.
How Do We Know Advice for April by Alan Macfarlane
All our knowledge is shaped by world views (paradigms, epistemes, weltanschauung) of which we are seldom aware. These systems of thought change in a dramatic way over time as a result of technological, political and intellectual revolutions. This book analyses the major paradigms in world history since Hunter-Gatherers up to the present. It examines oral, literate, axial, Renaissance, scientific, Enlightenment, evolutionary, modern and post-modern world views. It describes their major features and how the development of writing, printing, industrialism, imperialism and the Internet, among other great changes, have shaped the way we know - epistemology - over the last fifty thousand years.
How To Understand Each Other Notes for Nina by Alan Macfarlane
All our knowledge is shaped by world views (paradigms, epistemes, weltanschauung) of which we are seldom aware. These systems of thought change in a dramatic way over time as a result of technological, political and intellectual revolutions. This book analyses the major paradigms in world history since Hunter-Gatherers up to the present. It examines oral, literate, axial, Renaissance, scientific, Enlightenment, evolutionary, modern and post-modern world views. It describes their major features and how the development of writing, printing, industrialism, imperialism and the Internet, among other great changes, have shaped the way we know - epistemology - over the last fifty thousand years
A Modern Education Advice for Ariston by Alan Macfarlane
British education is designed to teach about society and power, play and performance, the head and the heart, the spirit and character. It is a preparation for a certain kind of ‘modernity.’ This book explains how education can make us modern and the ways in which such an education is different from that of Europe and China.
How Can We Survive Thoughts for Taras by Alan Macfarlane
We live in a confused and confusing world. Population growth, rapidly changing technologies, large migrations of peoples and ideas are changing everything faster and faster. This is a brief historical overview of eight of the major problems we face, and some radical ways of thinking about them. These include robots and work, computers and the internet, the increase in life and health, the challenge to democracy, multiculturalism, educational changes, war and peace.
The development of modern computers and Artificial Intelligence since the middle of the twentieth century is the greatest technological revolution since the invention of writing. This book explains how and why it happened, and what are the likely consequences of an exponential growth in the power of computers and robots - and how we can come to terms with this.
Learning to be Modern
The theme of this book is the transformation of a child through infancy, boarding schools and university, from the home to the wider society. By combining photographs and scans of documents, Alan Macfarlane presents an account of his 'education' from his birth in Assam, India, in 1941 through to the end of his undergraduate degree at Oxford University in 1963. This is part of a wider study of comparative education between China and the West.
How to Study the World
Here I explain three ways in which we learn about our world – through participation, conversation and by absorbing creative works. I look at how this experience is worked upon, reshaped and communicated through our imagination and writing. Finally I look at how our interpretations are influenced by the wider cultural context.