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Barbara Branden's POET Published!

I am honored to announce that the Kindle edition of Barbara Branden's ten-lecture course, "Principles of Efficient Thinking" (or POET, as we fondly call it) has finally been published, and a print edition is on the way as well. It is entitled Think as if Your Life Depends on It: Principles of Efficient Thinking and Other Lectures.

Principles of Efficient Thinking and Other Lectures

The original lecture series was presented by Barbara Branden in 1960 under the auspices of the Nathaniel Branden Institute and, with Ayn Rand's blessings, it was considered part of canonical Objectivism. As both Robert L. Campbell and I wrote (in our "Prologue" to the JARS symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy"):

[Nathaniel] Branden tells us that "[t]he term ["psycho-epistemology"] was first used, in print, by Ayn Rand, to designate a man's 'method of awareness,' in For the New Intellectual. However, the concept of 'psycho-epistemology,' as used in Objectivism and in Biocentric Psychology, was originated neither by Miss Rand nor by myself but by Barbara Branden who, in the mid-1950s, first brought this field of study to our attention and persuaded us of its importance." Branden goes on to define "psycho-episemology as 'the study of the mental operations that are possible to and that characterize man's cognitive behavior." He adds: "There is clearly a degree of interpenetration between epistemology and psycho-epistemology."
Indeed, Barbara Branden's ten-lecture course . . . "Principles of Efficient Thinking," was the first presentation of what might be termed an "Introduction to Objectivist Psycho-Epistemology," a virtual mirror of the title of Rand's [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology], which nicely complements and supplements the material in Rand's work. Barbara Branden's . . . course was revised to include quoted passages from canonical Objectivist writing in [1969], and that version was transcribed by Roger E. Bissell, for forthcoming print publication . . . along with several additional essays by Branden, derived from lectures she gave in 1995, 2006, and 2011. Nathaniel Branden’s guest lecture on "the fallacy of the stolen concept" is also included in the forthcoming "Principles" book.

(I have omitted from the above passages citations and references, which can be found in the published version of our "Prologue" to the Symposium.)

What is most important for the purposes of today's announcement is that the book, which was forthcoming, has now arrived! It gives me great personal and professional pleasure to finally see it in print. "Personal" because I have made no secret of the fact that I loved Barbara dearly; and "Professional" because this is truly a wonderful collection of lectures that probe so many aspects of an underappreciated component of Objectivist philosophy: psycho-epistemology.

For those who may have the mistaken impression that Ayn Rand only focused on conscious, volitional and rational thinking as essential to the survival and flourishing of the individual, it may come as a surprise to discover that she paid much attention to what many thinkers, from Gilbert Ryle to Michael Polanyi, have termed the "tacit" dimensions of consciousness. Among those "tacit" dimensions that Rand examined were two essential components: "sense of life" and "psycho-epistemology." As I explain in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, just as the conception of "sense of life" pertains to the "interrelationship between mental content and method from the vantage point of content," the concept of "psycho-epistemology" pertains "to the interrelationship between content and method from the vantage point of method." Like one's "sense of life," the development of one's habitual psycho-epistemology is normally a subconscious process that evolves over time.

And here is where Barbara Branden's work is significant. As Barbara explains in her very first POET lecture:

One of the most widespread of myths is the belief that everyone knows how to think, and that no learning process is required. Certainly no education in efficient thinking is offered, either by parents or by schools. We are taught to walk, to read, to write, to play baseball, but the most important of all human functions is left to blind chance, to trial and error, to each man's unaided efforts; and assuming that the knowledge of how to think is self-evident, people take their own mental processes as necessarily valid, as not to be questioned or examined.

Barbara's focus here is not just on the "Principles of Efficient Thinking" but on those often tacit practices that undermine the capacity of the individual to think efficiently. From my Foreword to the book:

In Barbara Branden’s lectures, we are introduced to much of the early Objectivist vernacular: the capacity to augment "focus," the contrast between "back-seat driving" and "front-seat driving," between "concrete-bound thinking" and "thinking in principles," the nature of insight, intuition, creativity, and language. Included here are extended discussions of the psycho-epistemological premises underlying, and social functions served by, evasion and repression, as well as some of the earliest Objectivist statements of the rules of definitions, genus and differentia, equivalence, fundamentality, circularity, negatives, obscurity, and the purpose of ostensive definitions. We are given a grand lesson in how to recognize the means by which efficient thinking is undermined, through "thinking in a square," the obfuscation of language, the use of dogma, "cue words," sloganeering, memorized maxims and the often unrecognized employment of irreducible primaries, floating abstractions, frozen abstractions, frozen absolutes, false axioms, false analogies, false alternatives, and the aforementioned "stolen concepts." At the root of the stolen-concept fallacy in particular is the error of "context-dropping," and in the end, it is the supreme importance of "context-holding" that makes possible "the psycho-epistemological habit of integration." Barbara’s perceptiveness shines throughout; she understands the inextricable connection between "context-holding" and respect for the "Law of Non-contradiction." Like Rand, she indicts "the very institution supposedly devoted to the pursuit of knowledge—that is . . . today’s universities," which provide "the most blatant examples of the failure to integrate ideas into a consistent system."

For a person like myself, who has spent the bulk of his professional career championing "dialectics" as "the art of context-keeping," this book is virtually a manual on the practice of that art. It emphasizes the various skills that one must employ in grasping the larger context in one's analysis of any object, event, issue, or social problem. In fact, it provides a gold mine of insights on how the practice of context-keeping is essential to reality-based integration.

I recommend this work to all those who are interested not only in the principles of efficient thinking and in identifying the ill-formed habits that undermine it, but also to all those who are interested in the history of ideas, especially in the history of Objectivism as a philosophy. There is simply no comparable work like this in print. Many of us know of the oral tradition in Objectivism; not enough of that tradition has been committed to print. This work has been a long-underappreciated contribution to the canon of Objectivism, which Rand herself endorsed, even after her 1968 break with both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden.

Fortunately, the Estate of Barbara Branden has not only made these lectures available to us as a printed record of an important aspect of Objectivist intellectual history; we are also treated to three additional lectures that enlighten us as to the various nuances and interpretive reflections that Barbara brought to this subject in her later years.

The book is a powerhouse. Get it. Read it. Savor it. It should be made part of your Bucket Reading List. The chief lesson that you will take away from it is that, indeed, you must "think as if your life depends on it . . . because it does!"

Postscript: This announcement was also noted by Anoop Verma here, here, and on Facebook.