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How Many Scientists Does It Take to Rediscover Thoreau?

If you haven’t heard of Henry David Thoreau, you might be forgiven for thinking he has nothing to teach us from his time on this planet 150 years ago. I think that perhaps the 5 scientists who thought they might learn something about the brain and attention by taking a little camping trip could have figured this out by revisiting Thoreau’s writings:

I come home to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home. I thus dispose of the superfluous and see things as they are, grand and beautiful. I have told many that I walk every day about half the daylight, but I think they do not believe it. I wish to get the Concord, the Massachusetts, the America, out of my head and be sane a part of every day.
– Henry David Thoreau, Journal

Even 150 years ago, Thoreau was writing about the benefits of communing with nature, along with all of the transcendentalists of the mid-19th century. It’s neither a particularly new nor interesting idea, yet this connection isn’t even mentioned within the article. Applying the sheen of “brain science” to the benefits of taking a break from life (and life’s technologies) seems to be just the latest way of spinning some very old, well-worn ideas.

3 Comments to
How Many Scientists Does It Take to Rediscover Thoreau?

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  1. My depression can sometimes be alleviated by taking the dog for a walk in the bushland or the lake. It can be alleviated further when I close the computer down, buy some seedlings and plant them in the garden. Even cleaning the oven has a more positive effect than updating my facebook status every other day.

  2. Have been very ‘attached’ to HDT from the first time I read him and have believed in his simplicity enough to have tried to avoid becoming consummed by technology. He spoke to me in heart and mind while those who were overtaken by their computers branded me the “useless, arty type”, astute and endearing of those who seldom ‘cracked’ a book beyond such technological topics as the latest video games, etc?! It doesn’t surprise me that someone has finally re-discovered the necessity of intellectual contemplation in this hectic, self-centered world,…you see, “what goes around, comes around” and the only true reality in this life comes from human contact, NOT the cold, souless, mechanical technology of computers and their extended appendages!!! God Bless a great writer/thinker and a good book!!! And thank God for the few thinkers that are still left in this cold (but artsy?) computerized world,…one question,…can you boil a pot of water or do you need a computer to do that for you???????

  3. As your article points out, modern science can look pretty silly when it draws conclusions on what’s good for us. More often than not, the answers are obvious, partly because of the advice we were given as children.

    What’s more disconcerting, however, is the apparent need of modern society to have science tell us how to live. What does that say for how much we value intuition and other intangible human qualities?

    It doesn’t matter how good brain imaging technology gets it will never measure the subjective world which is, increasingly, being ignored in our rush for the latest high-tech gadet.



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