You are what you read

Having a cup of tea early Saturday morning at a bakery in Venice (CA), a couple with a young son were sitting at the table next to me.  The parents were reading, the boy–maybe 5 or 7 years old–was playing a math game on a PDA.  I looked up when the boy was asking for help figuring out what 6 minus 2 was.  The father put down his magazine, and started working with the various cups and plates on the table to make the numbers real. I noticed that he was reading the very article in the New Yorker by Jonah Lehrer I had just finished the day before on the plane, about the Darwinian value of altruism. The article had a cartoon of leaf cutter ants and their bright green leaves across the two-page spread that made it recognizable from a distance, and he and his (I assume) wife discussed it once the mystery of 6-2 was resolved.

It made me reflect on how a certain number of people around the same period of time might be reading and thinking about the survival value of selflessness–and just what selfish and selfless might mean for us and for other species.  There’s a kind of awesome power in that, the ability of a well-written article in a popular medium to support a current of thought and discussion across a broad swath of disparate people. Continue reading “You are what you read”