Review of Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself
by Alan Alda
Review by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself is a philosophy book. Yes, really. It is about meanings and values and thinking and learning from experience. True "meaning of life" stuff. Literally. But, be undaunted -- it is done with fun, humor, warmth and sensitivity. In plain English. It's full of fascinating stories drawn from the author's own life; a richly interesting life.
Alan Alda looks at his own writings from the past -- his speeches -- in which he has publicly declared his philosophies of life. He quotes from those speeches he has selected as representative of his quest for meaning in life. And he intersperses them with relevant vignettes from his experience. In that way, he examines his own values and the sources of those values.
He reveals himself as a lifelong learner, a man of insatiable curiosity engaged in an incessant search for knowledge and understanding -- especially self-knowledge -- and insight. He shows his penchant for rigorous research in his gathering facts and statistical support for his ideas and conclusions. It is easy to see how he might have wished to be a scientist at times, since he proceeds so much like one in preparing speeches. (And I'm sure his 11 years of interviewing scientists for Scientific American Frontiers contributed to his methodological and empirical approach.) He does what he has suggested scientists do. He takes complex information, ideas and analyses and converts them into stories, analogies and mental images that make them understandable and relevant to the average guy or gal.
So, he models for you how to approach the search for meaning and values in life and how to think about what you find in that search. All the while, he is entertaining you as well with his own search, his own findings and his own conclusions.
By the time I finished the book, I was sure that the people who are the author's friends are lucky folk. What a pleasure it must be to just have a chat with someone who takes such care with his thinking and such time to craft his thoughts into usable insights he shares without defense. Ah well, the rest of us have his book.