Philosophick Fables started life as an idea in a hammock one idyllic Sunday afternoon in 2001. I was working at the time in a sphere that demanded a much greater understanding of the human mind than I’d ever acquired at school or university. It helped that my wife has a degree in psychology and was able to provide me with unending reading-matter. The more I thought about all the new brain-related knowledge I’d acquired in recent years, the more it occurred to me how little most of us know in general about this object that shapes every last detail of our lives. After all, everything we think, do and say has its origins in the mind. So understanding how one’s own mind works – not to mention the minds of everyone else on the planet – has to confer a substantial advantage in getting successfully through life.
Now, brain science isn’t terribly simple, especially the way it’s taught formally. Yet much of what we know about the brain, especially in respect of how it makes us behave, is only a step removed from common sense. We see its effects about us every waking moment, not to mention the sleeping ones. So I mused that I might provide a benevolent service in communicating some of the classic findings of brain science – psychology and, more recently, neuroscience – in the form of simple stories, or fables. In the next breath it occurred to me that those stories would best be told in verse, so as to make them more palatable. I used to write a lot of poetry in those days just for relaxation: love sonnets, haikus, even an epic poem or two. Why not turn my hand to creating something with genuine educational value?
I had no idea at the time what course the project might take. In that first flush of enthusiasm, I wrote a few dozen fables in quick succession; but then work commitments began to dominate, and the project was set aside. I did occasionally add more fables when a particular idea came to mind; but it took a brainwave in 2013 to bring the final project to fruition. Though the fables appeared to work well as stories, I realised that they would really grow wings if their lessons were supported by proper academic back-up. I therefore undertook to find formal academic references for each of the brain phenomena depicted, both to lend weight to them and to provide a way for readers to research in more detail anything that took their fancy. Having mapped out – in a spreadsheet, no less – all the topics I’d already covered, I was able to identify more readily which major subjects I hadn’t yet addressed; these too were then added to the collection as further fables. Immersing myself in psychological literature serendipitously reminded me of various other academic papers I’d enjoyed reading in the past, providing further material. Though there were still many more I might have included, I eventually decided to draw the line at the salient number of 101.
Brain science is a relatively modern discipline; yet the phenomena it sheds light on are as old as our species. Mindful that my greatest inspiration for the fable form was the ancient Aesop, I therefore decided to give my collection a very traditional look and indeed title; hence the lovely antique illustrations, and the deliberately old-fangled name of Philosophick Fables (the spelling of which, incidentally, makes it much easier to find in search engines).The Fables are called ‘Philosophick’ rather than ‘Psychologic’ for two reasons: ‘philosophy’ is what psychology was normally called until the Victorian William James kick-started the more modern term; and, obviously, it alliterates. The original idea of the book design was to make it as pleasant a bedtime read as possible, allowing the reader to devote as little as five minutes’ attention on any occasion if they wished, and be able to fall asleep contemplating another little facet of mental life; the illustrations would even help make it a good bedtime read for older children. When it was pointed out to me however that the collection had also morphed into a concentrated resource for students of psychology, I went on to create an e-book, complete with internal and online links that make it a very handy aid to studies.
My hope is that readers will at least get a lot of pleasure from reading this collection of stories: one that ought to raise at least a smile of recognition in highlighting some of the peculiarities of human behaviour to be found in every corner of the planet. More ambitiously, though, I hope that it will provide a stimulus to more serious investigation of the brain among the many who would get a benefit from doing so: parents, young people, students, carers, health professionals, teachers, businesspeople, policy-makers… in fact, anyone whomsoever with a mind to know more about the mind. Understanding how one’s brain works is as perennially useful as musicians learning the workings of their instruments or young sportsmen their kit: it’s not vital, but it certainly conveys a lifelong advantage.
In this blog, I’ll be sharing a few of the fables and explaining more about what they teach us. It’ll provide a platform for comments and questions that I trust will lead to greater enlightenment and further inquiry: not only for you, but also for your grateful host,
©Old Bunyard 2016