You’ve been writing about your desire to live with a passion for meaning, about how you want to be more like people who display a generosity of spirit. You wrote that you want “to be better at balancing my life.” How’s that going?I also liked this line:
It’s going okay. Every day, I try to read something of some meaning. This morning, I read a book about how we find our callings. I always try to keep a book like that open. The question is: Am I a better person? I hope so. My mornings are sadder.
I had a student come up to me at the end of this class I taught at Yale, and he said, “Since I’ve been taking the class, I’m much sadder than I used to be.” And I took that as a win. Sadness is not quite the right word. Hunger and longing is what I mean. There’s a biblical verse, “Blessed are the hungry ones.” So I’m hungry for this sort of knowledge. I have this vision that if I do this long enough, I’ll be the sort of person who, when people come to you for advice, I’ll have answers, I’ll have wisdom. I’m not sure it will really work that way, but the one measurable thing I’ve noticed in my life is that people never used to confide in me, and now, they do. I don’t always know what to say, but I’m getting there.
While I was counting columns, I noticed a marked turn in the sources and readings you’ve been relying on. It’s a shift from social scientists to philosophers, clergy and novelists. Is that a purposeful change?
Yes. I’d written this book, The Social Animal, and it had a lot of social scientists in it. I don’t abandon that stuff; it’s very useful. But I’ve really become disillusioned—not completely—but halfway disillusioned with neuroscience. Ten years ago, I thought that was going to teach us a lot about who we are. And it does, a little. It teaches you the importance of emotion, how the amygdala is involved in everything. But I don’t think neuroscience has taught us anything that George Eliot didn’t already know. It doesn’t at all solve the problem of meaning. So I felt I had to go back to the Soloveitchiks or the Niebuhrs or George Eliot or Dostoyevsky, who didn’t have fMRI machines but were pretty good observers of human nature.
Universities and a lot of institutions became very amoral because they didn’t know what to say. We became such a diverse society that it became hard to know what to say without insulting somebody.Like Brooks, I hunger for wisdom, which is why I keep reading him even though I disagree with most of what he says. Unlike him, I have little interest in religious tradition. So I wander through my own intellectual world, wondering.