About Fuel for Thought

Fuel for Thought

Ideas to Revolutionize Our Lives, Improve Civilization, and Build a Better World

By Gabriel Wilensky

Fuel for Thought: Ideas to Revolutionize Our Lives, Improve Civilization, and Build a Better World shows readers what factors are detrimental to human progress and the well-being of society and makes far-reaching recommendations for actions that progressive parents, educators, policy-makers, and any concerned person can take to make the world a better place.

Objective of the Book

The book is based on the premise that an enlightened society is a good thing, and that an environment comprised of enlightened people fosters the development of more enlightened people, thus setting in motion a virtuous circle in which over time life becomes better for everyone. The objective of the book is to form a powerful youth, confident in its transformational potential, enriched and empowered by a greatly enhanced use of reason, and with a solid scientific and humanistic culture that would enable the establishment of a perennial Enlightenment and thus open roads to a better future.

The Ideal Reader

Fuel for Thought is for progressive individuals who are interested in making the world a better place. This includes the type of parents of young children who make an investment of time, effort and money to provide a better education for their children, people who are involved in political or social causes meant to improve the well-being of the population, educators who truly care to make themselves and their pupils better, policy-makers and citizens who may feel unhappy with our current system of government, people interested in improving themselves and, generally, people interested in improving the human condition.

Benefits to the Reader

Fuel for Thought’s goal is to motivate readers to become better and to make sweeping changes to their environment and to themselves, and thus to transform the world. Readers will benefit from Fuel for Thought as it will provide them with a wealth of ideas that will trigger one or more of four things: a drive to become better human beings, a drive to turn their young children if they are parents or those of others if they are educators into better human beings, a drive to improve the social environment in which they live by minimizing the pernicious influence of superstitious thinking while at the same time maximizing the use of reason, and/or a drive to improve the way they choose leaders and run governments.

Improving the World

Fuel for Thought is unique in that it brings together an extensive array of ideas that can be used to formulate a plan to make the world a better place. The book distills the wisdom learned from previous historical moments in which we experienced a renaissance of human intellectual, moral and social progress, and makes recommendations of how we can apply some of these things to our modern world to bring about a similar result.

Table of Contents

Part 1

Elements for a better world

Part 1 makes the case that in order to make the world a better place we need to do four key things:

  • Greatly improve education for the fostering and cultivation of better individuals
  • Set up an environment for the generation, flourishing and communication of ideas
  • Reduce or eliminate reliance on myth and superstition
  • Improve government

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Chapter 1: Reforming education

This chapter and the following one share the common theme of “Education for the fostering and cultivation of superb individuals” and presents a different perspective on education, one in which the focus moves away from the traditional academic emphasis on information to an emphasis on the formation of well-rounded thinking individuals. The education of our children should focus on instilling in children high standards of reason, critical thinking skills, morals and ideals that lead to human perfection. The chapter also discusses what is currently wrong with our educational system, with its emphasis on information and specialization and offers ideas on things we need to do to build a stronger educational system. The last section of this chapter focuses on Knowledge, discussing what it is, why it matters, how to get it, how to use it and generally why it is so important to the advancement of society.

Chapter 2: Raising Thinking Machines

This chapter covers what it would take to turn students into thinking machines, that is, reflexive rational agents. The chapter focuses on what needs to be done to systematically teach and train our children on how to learn, how to think, how to better understand the natural and artificial worlds, how to build character, how to develop their memory and why that matters, and how to improve communication skills.

Chapter 3: An ecosystem for ideas

This chapter covers one of the key elements needed for the creation of a better world, namely, a system in which people are free to come up with ideas, and communicate and execute them. The chapter provides material on the importance of the sociocultural environment, the importance of imagination and how to let it loose, and argues for the creation of multiple outlets or fora for the circulation and exchange of ideas. It then covers culture, and things that need to be done in the areas of art, theatre, cinema and television as the premiere vehicles for communication in modern times. Part of this effort should be specifically aimed at establishing a strong scientific culture by promoting science at all levels, by protecting it from the assault from religious bigotry and by changing the popular perception of it and of scientists from “nerds” as a stigma to nerds as heroes. The discussion about promoting intellectuals would result in turning the best minds into celebrities as important as movie stars are today, and also incentivize lots of people to want to participate in the creative process.

Chapter 4: The abyss of irrationality

This chapter makes a strong case against superstition in all its forms, including religion. A world in which people trust “holy” books more than science is a world that perpetuates obscurantism and will continue to have serious problems of all sorts, and will be a place in which progress will be hampered by fundamentalist beliefs unsupported by evidence. The chapter provides an account of the origins of superstition so that the reader understands where this comes from. This is followed by a discussion on the processes that lead people into believing in the supernatural, and also briefly covers issues related to two of the most popular religions in the world, Christianity and Islam. This in turn is followed by a discussion of the pernicious effects of religion in terms of the historical, moral, economic, political and social consequences it brings about. The following sections analyzes religion from a memetic point of view and discusses things freethinking people can do to help religious people shed their religions.

Chapter 5: What's wrong with democracy?

This chapter is one of two under the general theme of “Improved Government”. This chapter makes an analysis of various issues related to how we govern ourselves in the Western world, namely, in the democracies. The chapter takes a look at those aspects of democracy that for the sake of egalitarianism hamper the advancement of society as a whole. The chapter makes the suggestion that we should consider measuring the citizen’s competence to vote using various criteria and give more weight to the vote of the more capable people. The essence of this idea is that it is fundamentally important that political institutions embody, in their spirit, the recognition that some opinions are worth more than others. The last section of the chapter takes a deeper look at how our current system becomes a mediocracy. It examines how politicians operate and what motivates them, and also what happens to idealists and thinkers, as well as to the arts and the sciences in this environment. The section examines how the system puts people in a downward-spiral in which the tendency is for self-interest to prevail and be the principal driver for political action.

Chapter 6: Improving Government

This chapter offers some ideas we could implement to improve the ways we govern ourselves. The centerpiece of the chapter argues that progress can not only be achieved but will also be put on a fast track when and if we become a meritocracy, that is, a system in which the most competent people rule. The section opens with a brief historical background of meritocracies, followed by a subsection on what constitutes a natural aristocracy. The next section explains what is the nature of merit or competence as the basis for the criteria of selection. Lastly, the chapter covers key things an enlightened government should do, followed by a discussion on some steps necessary to promote science, reason and freedom of thought. The next section covers culture, and steps the government must take to strongly promote education and instill the culture of culture.

Part 2

Towards a new, perennial Enlightenment

The second part of the book covers two main areas that are important to bring about—and sustain—a new Enlightenment: Setting up the right conditions, and Becoming better human beings.

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    Chapter 7: Advice for parents

    This chapter is not meant to be a parenting guide, but rather it provides a few points of advice for parents. The chapter offers some ideas on things parents should and shouldn’t do, and advices them to invest more time and effort to promote and instill the concepts of enlightened self-interest and group effort on their children. This is meant to promote altruism and socioeconomic and intellectual advancement as a function of the benefits derived from unselfish cooperation towards a common goal. The following sections provide some advice on things parents should do during the education of their children, specifically in the areas of instilling and fomenting a sense of curiosity, in the types and quantities of toys they give them, in teaching them to get excited about important things such as achievements in the fields of arts and sciences (as opposed to focusing on trivial things), in avoiding sources of easy solutions, and in teaching them to be assertive.

    Chapter 8: The way we are

    This chapter makes the point that all men are not created equal, which means that beyond the obvious physical differences among people there are personality and intellectual differences among them that influence everything they do in life. The chapter discusses those differences, including looking at elements that form an individual’s personality, and discusses the spectrum of intellectual abilities and why the democratic push towards egalitarianism is correct in terms of rights but not correct in terms of the attempt to level the playing field by pretending everyone is the same as everyone else in terms of merit or innate or learned abilities.

    Chapter 9: Setting up the right conditions

    This chapter examines some key elements that need to be present in order for a Renaissance or an Enlightenment to occur. The chapter opens with a section arguing we need to break with some elements of the past to forge a better future, and this leads to a discussion on learning from the greatness of the past as a jumping board to a discussion on what a new start would mean. The following section recaps the things that need to be in place that we covered earlier, such as education with an emphasis on thinking skills, an environment for the proliferation and communication of ideas, a reduction or elimination of superstition, better government and also the proposition that additionally we need to become better human beings, which will be covered in more detail in subsequent chapters. The chapter closes with a section examining a few current and potential future technological advances that may contribute to a new Renaissance.

    Chapter 10: Philosophical musings

    This chapter examines a few areas of ethics, morals and values and begins with a brief introduction to some key, pertinent philosophical points, followed by a section on ethics, another on morals with deeper discussions on moral progress, the path towards moral perfection, using legislation to make people moral and what moral genius may mean. The chapter closes with an examination of Values, with further discussions on virtuousness, dignity and pride and extolls the virtues of enlightened self-interest.

    Chapter 11: The way we should be

    This chapter examines things human beings have done and further things we can do to perfect ourselves. This is a key concept to support the premise of this book, as it would be pointless to improve the environment without improving us as well. The chapter begins with a discussion on progress from a human point of view, followed by a discussion on different modes of human perfection, including different ways in which we can perfect ourselves. This chapter also includes a discussion that offers goals for the wealthy in which I argue that wealthy individuals should become modern versions of the Renaissance patrons with a strong emphasis on science and education. The chapter ends with a section examining ways of becoming enlightened, with an emphasis on the concept of enlightened self-interest, describes conditions needed to become enlightened, gives reasons why it is important and lists benefits of becoming enlightened.

    Chapter 12: Toward the ideal man

    This chapter closes the book. It covers why it’s important the ideal person forges his own destiny, maintaining his ideals, individuality and drive towards a better future. It also argues that the ideal man needs to act altruistically towards the common good, in a way tying this with the concept introduced earlier in the discussion about enlightened self-interest. The last section of the chapter—which also wraps up the book—is a discussion about what it means to become a superb individual, which includes things like being enlightened, moral, altruistic, assertive, full of initiative, drive and ideals and, ultimately, embody the Renaissance ideal of “the universal man” harmoniously conjoining every variety of human perfection.

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    The Abyss of Irrationality

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