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Friday, December 20, 2013

On the Medical Profession (Middlemarch, George Eliot)

...he carried to his studies in London, Edinburgh, and Paris, the conviction that the medical profession as it might be was the finest in the world; presenting the most perfect interchange between science and the art; offering the most direct alliance between intellectual conquest and the social good. Lydgate's nature demanding this combination: he was an emotional creature, with a flesh-and-blood sense of fellowship which withstood all the abstractions of special study. 

He meant to be a unit who would make a certain amount of difference towards that spreading change which would one day tell appreciably upon the averages, and in the meantime have the pleasure of making an advantageous difference to the viscera of his own patients. But he did not simply aim at a more genuine kind of practice than was common. He was ambitious of a wider effect: he was fired with the possibility that he might work out the proof of an anatomical conception and make a link in the chain of discovery. 

'If I had not taken that turn when I was a lad,' he thought, 'I might have got into some stupid draught-horse work or other, and lived always in blinkers. I should never have been happy in any profession that did not call forth the highest intellectual strain, and yet keep me in good warm contact with my neighbours. There is nothing like the medical profession for that: one can have the exclusive scientific life that touches the distance and befriend the old fogies in the parish too...'

He was saved from hardening effects by the abundant kindness of his heart and his belief that human life might be made better.

Introducing The Musical Vesicle!

We're all well and acquainted with The Literary Vesicle, a vesicle that shares books and literary tidbits. Obviously, a Musical Vesicle has been long past due. Of course, this synapse harbors quite a bit (by quite, I mean the British "quite") of music already, so how is this vesicle different? Read on, and you'll see.

She rolled back down to the warm soft ground
Laughin', she don't know why, but she had to try, she had to try (Heart, "Dog and the Butterfly")

There she goes - still flying. She doesn't look back, no use to look down when sun shines above and [the wind] (yes, that one) lifts her up. 

"Dog and the Butterfly" (Heart)

Basically, this vesicle shares music. Where does the music come from? Random transmissions. That's all. Enjoy.  Access it by clicking "The Musical Vesicle" in the labels side bar.

"a little like [the wind]"

Remember way back when, when this synapse introduced The Literary Vesicle?

You'll find I'll continue to post snippets from books, but in a new style. I think you'll get what I mean if you read on!

Remember: the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. Life's cruelest irony (Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet).

There - outside - is the whistling of the wind that touches the leaves and animates all that come into its contact. But there you are - not. Separated by some wall (real or imagined), some distance (physical or emotional); you wonder when, if?, the wind will ever get you. And if you wonder long enough, you become a little like [the wind] (Nunokawa, "The Circling Game"). Maybe, hopefully?, the longed-for wind was with you, in you, all along. Turns out it wasn't a matter of the wind getting to know you, but you getting to know the wind.

Never is [a man] less alone than when he is by himself (Cicero to Cato, Shakespeare, Julius Caesar).

To Doubt What is Undoubtedly Right

Radiolab: How do you solve a problem like Fritz Haber?
What happens: Haber wins the Nobel prize for converting Nitrogen into a nutritionally useful form and solves a food crises. Haber then uses the same process for gas warfare (Chlorine gas) and seems to delight in killing as many Allies as he can with it. His wife (also a gifted scientist) is horrified and argues for him to stop on moral grounds. He doesn't. She commits suicide. The next day, Haber goes to war to continue gas warfare leaving his son with a dead mother. The son then commits suicide. When the Germans are defeated, Haber spends years trying to develop a scientific process to collect gold from the sea to pay off Germany's war debt. He fails. Hitler comes to power, and Haber (a Jew) leaves the country. Nazi Germany uses a Haber-derived process to exterminate Jews (including Haber's extended family) in gas chambers.

It's a very gripping listen (hopefully that shocking summary is enough to get you to hear the whole story)...and I think one that will hopefully influence us as we move forward as people who want to impact the world. (By the way, Radiolab is my favorite radio show - always gets me thinking in different ways - on moral and social issues, in questioning conventional psychological thought/analysis, and with feel-good/thinking-good stories & sound-effects.)

Haber's story also reminds me of Richard Wagner - a horribly anti-Semitic man who made great music. I still don't know how to answer the question my music professor posed to me two years ago: should Wagner's music be played publicly?

I think the lessons boil down to not taking things to the extremes, to step back and doubt. In all those times we hate ourselves for doubting and falling in that uncertain limbo space, it's nice to know that doubt is good.  The "greater good" is a dangerous concept. As another Radiolab podcast quoted, what is "greater" and what is "good"? Perhaps there is no clear answer, and so we must always doubt what is undoubtedly right.

On the Humanist and Scientist

I was tempted to write one of those academic questions today, like something from a writing seminar. But I won’t. I mean, I will, but not in the academic way (I hope).
It seems that when I read science (was reading “The Canon” this morning, which started me on these thoughts), I love paradoxes - incongruities between seeming facts. I try to resolve the dilemma with some sort of explanation - it’s a very rational kind of exercise. When I read literature/humanities, I love similarities - relations between the thoughts and myself or others I know.  I try to understand human nature - it’s a very personal exercise that uses intuition and feelings. 
I have no idea where I’m going with this. Just that, I suppose I’ve also been thinking about the relationship between science and the humanities. To me, science falls in the realm of the thinkers, rationalists. Humanities more so under the feelers, compassion-ists. That, at least, seems to be how I connect with them.
So, when I considered why both sides - the scientists and the humanists (as in humanities-ists) - despair over their decline, my friend brought up a good point: “there are plenty of fields that aren't either humanities or science, and maybe those fields are growing.”
And the more I thought, the more I loved that idea.
You see, I’ve recently come under the confusion about whether it is better to spend your time strengthening your strengths (develop your passion!) or your weaknesses (be well-balanced!). This, for me, includes trying to be a little more of the person I’m not used to being (such as writing to you so openly). This also means toning down my more intuitive, feeling side, and strengthening my sensing, thinking side. So why do I love the idea of the growth of other fields? 
Because I think fields that aren't “either humanities or science” are a mix of the two. Perhaps these fields include political science, sociology, anthropology. And, this notion gives me strength to further believe that in today’s society, it is, in fact, good to be well-rounded (though seemingly not so useful in college admissions to top universities…) - not just academically, but personally (be logical vs be empathetic) as well, which gives me further strength in this journey to, so to say, round myself out a little better.
I think our ideal is not just the humanists, or scientist, nor just the thinker, or feeler, but the ideal lies in the middle (like so many things…). And this from another brilliant friend makes the point well (exerpt below): So, maybe I’m not sure where I’m going, but I’m keeping my ears open.
It’s by listening, as humanists do best, to stories, and seeing what the narratives can teach us. Open your ears and—we promise you—you’ll hear stories that don’t resemble what you read in the media.
Have you heard about the professor of neurology who, as a student, learned to do research by writing a prize-winning senior thesis in history on the death of Captain Cook? No, of course you haven’t. But he exists, too, and so do thousands more.

Hello again! (Seeing in the Dark)

It's good to see you again (in the dark), and sorry for the hiatus. My school changed google platforms and this google account was no longer very accessible, so I started a new blog. Now that I'm out of school, I think it's high time to transfer blog posts, and say hello again. Hello! Stay tuned for a plethora of transferred posts, starting below with Radiolab, of course!

Radiolab Podcast: Seeing in the Dark
"While John finds truth in darkness, Zoltan sees an emotional void. And as they argue, they reveal some very powerful truths about how we connect to one another."

How do we connect to each other? In different ways, and that makes us richer. Take a listen (20 min or so), this is beautiful.