Summer, for me, is a time to relax with family and friends and perhaps catch up on some reading.

This is a hot one, of course—the hottest in recorded history. Yet more evidence (if we needed it) of how we are reshaping our planet. Doomsayers among us cannot agree on whether it will be through climate change, politics, or new technologies—or some combination—that humanity will bring about our own end. I am certainly not sanguine on any of these fronts, but I remain optimistic. I know that we have it in ourselves to solve even our most intractable problems. 

On that front, I have been spending a great deal of time educating myself on generative AI. Will it usher in a new productive golden age? Or will it end up destroying jobs and displacing work as we know it? University of Toronto economists Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb write in Prediction machines: The simple economics of artificial intelligence that AI, like other technologies before it, will replace tasks that are today jobs. Predictive AI tools can automate labor, decrease uncertainty, and produce better business outcomes—all at lower costs. As a result, their potential becomes obvious and increases the scope for, and value of, human judgment. 

None of this is to minimize the potential impact to people’s lives and employment, but if history has taught us anything, it is that technological innovation creates more jobs than it destroys, making human progress possible. Those of us in professions where expertise and judgment are critical will, I believe, see more (not less) demand for our services.

Which brings me to Adam Gopnik’s The real work: On the mystery of mastery, examining the very human question of how we learn and master new skills. Similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-hour” rule, Gopnik explores how experts in their fields (like boxing and dancing) mastered their crafts. 

My own take is that for any vocation, there is a pyramid of learning. This begins, at its most basic with knowledge building and repetition. With this repetition comes experience, and eventually judgment and wisdom. With the pace of change today, most of us will have to climb many of these pyramids over our careers. That is the challenge but also opportunity. Frankly, it keeps it interesting.

Of course, our minds are curious things. It is clear that we are only beginning to understand how they work, and I have been doing some reading on a couple of related fronts. 

Michael Pollan has written two powerful books on how drugs and plants affect the brain. His 2018 book, How to change your mind, explored how new scientific discoveries around psychedelics are changing our understanding of—and treatments for—conditions such as depression, addiction, and anxiety. In 2021, he came out with This is your mind on plants, which looks at how three drugs that are derived from plants—opium, caffeine, and mescaline—affect us physically and how we treat them differently from a cultural perspective. As a matter of intellectual curiosity, I am intrigued by the promise that psychedelics may have to improve the lives of people with difficult-to-treat psychological problems and what it means for consciousness. 

Along these lines, I am also fascinated by the story of Caroline Myss, who seems to demonstrate the untapped power of the mind through her sensitivity to human energy and an ability to diagnose illnesses. In a book she co-wrote with a former Harvard professor of neurology entitled The creation of healthand in subsequent books such as Anatomy of the spirit, she explores energy medicine and her perspectives on healing. Whatever your level of skepticism, it is clear we are only beginning to understand the brain and how it functions. 

As we near the end of summer, I want to wish you all the very best. Despite the theme of some of these book recommendations, I am not going to tell you to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” However, I do hope you can find some quiet space to relax and unwind—and maybe read a book or two (before AI makes them obsolete).