Thursday, April 30, 2020


Reading Prof. Anne Harrington's "The Cure Within", I admire her sensitivity and accurate accounting of a twisting, multi-faceted history in a way that seems to stay on a path that would be ok with the original people.  I knew that she had written another book more recently and I wanted to get more familiar with it.  It is "Mind Fixers".  I have seen that the New Yorker magazine has something rather recent about the Mind Fixers and I looked it up.  There is an article by Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor at the Harvard Medical School, called "The Troubled History of Psychiatry".  

In today's world of more thinking, more questioning, more education, more communication, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the sources, opinions, interesting angles, works of art including drama and poetry that might pertain to any interest.  If the interest is the human mind, the possibly relevant documents approach an infinity.  That is not even accounting for business and commercial interests.  Many forces are currently pushing entrepreneurship and commercial invention.  Why just learn something new when you can invent a wonderful new product that solves a basic problem or opens a new possibility and get rich while doing so?

Prof. Harrington wrote of "fronts", as in a battle or meteorology.  The image of a new front when the enemy army somehow advances behind one's warriors, or descends from the sky onto one's soldiers is a handy one for developing a mental grasp of a complicated, multi-dimensional picture of any history or complex effort.  It can be a comfort and an inspiration to develop a map or chart that shows all the arms of a big push.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Counted on the fingers of one hand

I am enjoying the skill with which Prof. Anne Harrington handles descriptions of events and ideas connected to the powers of the mind to affect the body and health.  Her book "The Cure Within" deals with many aspects of what seems to me a slippery group of subjects.  

They can be political and economic.  If a group of people are convinced my voice, my touch, my shirt, my anything are helpful, healthy, curative, I am enabled to sell, command, swell with pride and importance.  I am impressed with her conceptual agility and her ability to focus on aspects in the history of mind that typify different slants and stances.  

At one point, she writes:

the American medical profession paid little attention to Lourdes. The few exceptions to this rule can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Harrington, Anne. The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine (p. 110). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

I have developed a sensitivity to the expression "can be counted on the fingers of one hand."  Spoiler alert: it is here that I am entering Nerdville so if you have trouble with nerdiness, go do something else now.  The expression "can be counted on the fingers of one hand" is used to express low frequency, something rather rare.  Since most of us have five fingers on one hand, or four if you want to omit the thumb, the implication is that something has happened only 4 or 5 times or less.

But I recommend using some other word or expression.  See, the modern world runs on computers and computers work quite well on my thumbs.  Or, my ears.  Or, my eyes.  It is true that millions have done quite well with just the digits from 0 to 9.  But once we began serious work using only a 0 and a 1, in the famous binary system, we learned how far we can go with just two symbols.  

It is a rather new concept, a whole number system using just 0 and 1.  Here's a Google Ngram of the use of "binary numbers":

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Have I wasted my life?

My friend doesn't know what to do with himself.  Another friend fears that he has wasted his life.  Such feelings, questions and doubts are very common and may or may not be answerable, depending on what seems like an adequate answer.  

My favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes.  If you haven't read it lately, you might benefit from a look.  

One version, the New International Version (they differ slightly in different editions) says:

1 The words of the Teacher,[a] son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2 "Meaningless! Meaningless!"

    says the Teacher.

"Utterly meaningless!

    Everything is meaningless."

3 What do people gain from all their labors

    at which they toil under the sun?

4 Generations come and generations go,

    but the earth remains forever.

5 The sun rises and the sun sets,

    and hurries back to where it rises.

6 The wind blows to the south

    and turns to the north;

round and round it goes,

    ever returning on its course.

7 All streams flow into the sea,

    yet the sea is never full.

To the place the streams come from,

    there they return again.

8 All things are wearisome,

    more than one can say.

The eye never has enough of seeing,

    nor the ear its fill of hearing.

9 What has been will be again,

    what has been done will be done again;

    there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which one can say,

    "Look! This is something new"?

It was here already, long ago;

    it was here before our time.

11 No one remembers the former generations,

    and even those yet to come

will not be remembered

    by those who follow them.

Wisdom Is Meaningless

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be straightened;

    what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said to myself, "Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge." 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;

    the more knowledge, the more grief.

The famous words of the beginning of Ecclesiaster in the beginning of the King James version 

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity

Modern people may benefit from thinking of "vanity' as futility, uselessness rather than meaninglessness.  Today's philosophers have many questions and criticisms about some of these assertions.  

This sort of thinking can be said to be the fundamental question that people have asked over the centuries.  It may also help to read Percy Shelley's poem "Ozymandias" or view the Disney movie "Coco".

Monday, April 27, 2020

I don't know squat

I have been confusing the word "stoop" with the word "squat".  I have been using the squat machine in the weight room, back when the room was open.  It has been closed for weeks and that is not good news for a body that is over 80 years old.  The other day, I found this suggested reading, written by Rosie Spinx in the Pocket service of Firefox browser.

I searched "squat" in Google search and got this result

I like the books by Dr. Joan Vernikos, "Sitting Kills" and "Designed to Move".  Being old and also doing social distancing can combine to cut way down on movement and exercise.  So, squatting, gently but increasingly deeply, can help hips, knees, ankles and back, especially a couple of times a day. It can be important not to overdo it.  If you are sore in the hips, knees, ankles or back, give yourself a day of rest before squatting again.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Deeply moved

Staying away from the virus, we can appreciate the time Shackleton and his crew spent trapped and isolated for much longer than we have been quarantined.  

From Writer's Almanac of 4/24/2020

On this date in 1916, Sir Ernest Shackleton (books by this author) set out in a lifeboat from Elephant Island to get help for his shipwrecked Antarctic expedition. Shackleton had set sail from London on the Endurance on August 1, 1914, intending to be the first party to cross the continent of Antarctica. Four months later, the ship encountered pack ice — large masses of ice that are not attached to land — for the first time. They crossed the Antarctic Circle in January 1915, but the ship was soon trapped in the ice pack. The crew had no control over the vessel's movements, and they drifted aimlessly along with the ice for more than nine months. Eventually, the Endurance was so damaged by the ice that Shackleton ordered his men to abandon ship. Each man was allowed to bring two pounds of personal items from the ship, with two exceptions: photographer Frank Hurley's photographic plates, and crewmember Leonard Hussey's banjo. They set up camp on an ice floe, where they watched their ship gradually sink into the frigid waters. They camped on the ice for several months, hoping that they would hit a lucky current and drift northward to safety, but finally, in April 1916, Shackleton and some of the men set off in three lifeboats. They landed on Elephant Island, which was uninhabited. A few days later, Shackleton set off in one of the lifeboats, the James Caird, to South Georgia Island, where there was a whaling station. In August, he finally arrived at the ice camp and rescued the survivors, one of whom later wrote, "I felt jolly near blubbing for a bit & could not speak for several minutes," when he saw Shackleton's ship appear on the horizon.

From Writer's Almanac of 4/25/2020

It's the birthday of poet Ted Kooser (books by this author), born in Ames, Iowa (1939). He said, "I had a wonderfully happy childhood," and, "All this business about artists having to have terrible childhoods doesn't play with me."

He started writing poetry seriously as a teenager. He said: "I was desperately interested in being interesting. Poetry seemed a way of being different." His first poem was published because his friends sent one of his poems to a teen magazine behind his back.

He wanted to be a writer, but he flunked out of graduate school. So he took the first job he was offered, at a life insurance company, and he worked there for 35 years. He said: "I believe that writers write for perceived communities, and that if you are a lifelong professor of English, it's quite likely that you will write poems that your colleagues would like; that is, poems that will engage that community. I worked every day with people who didn't read poetry, who hadn't read it since they were in high school, and I wanted to write for them."

Every morning, he got up at 4:30, made a pot of coffee, and wrote until 7. Then he put on his suit and tie and went to work. By the time he retired in 1999, Kooser had published seven books of poetry, including Not Coming to Be Barked At (1976), One World at a Time (1985), and Weather Central (1994). He resigned himself to being a relatively unknown poet, but he continued to write every morning. Then, in 2004, he got a phone call informing him that he had been chosen as poet laureate of the United States. He said: "I was so staggered I could barely respond. The next day, I backed the car out of the garage and tore the rearview mirror off the driver's side."

He turns 81 today. His latest collection is Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems (2018), published by Copper Canyon Press.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

My first YouTube playlist

Today, I made my first YouTube playlist.  Two compositions and a 41 minute concert, all Schubert music.  Here is a link:

Friday, April 24, 2020

Mind-body influences

I am interested in mind-body connections.  I bought a book called "Words Can Change Your Brain".  I didn't pay strict attention as I read through it but I came away thinking,"Of course!  ALL words change my brain."  What I hear spoken, what I read - it is all history that my brain experiences.  Then, I thought of the power of some phrases, such as "I do" and "Help!" and "Don't worry - it's not loaded".  

When I think of mind-body connections and mind-body medicine, I think of the book "Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body" by Jo Marchant, PhD.  It is excellent and I recommend it.  Here is a link to some notes I took from the book:

More recently, I found the book by Prof. Anne Harrington, Harvard historian of science, called "The Cure Within".  She takes a valuable and unusual approach to the mind's effect on the body.  She explains six stories that depict common understandings of disease.  She uses the word "physicalist" to signify the position that all difficulties are physical, that is, mechanical in some sense.  But she knows that illness visited on a person is sometimes ascribed to the evil practices of others, or punishment for sin, or a test of faith.  Comparing and contrasting Marchant and Harrington is informative.  

There are reports of a coach giving a runner a pill, informing the runner honestly and completely that the pill is an empty capsule but may help the runner go faster.  When the runner is able to go faster, he wants the same sort of capsule for his next race.  Harrington says

Mind matters too: how one thinks, how one feels, what kind of personality or character one has or cultivates. For stories of this third kind, questions like "Why me? Why now? What next?" are not meaningless after all, but exactly the right questions  - and for medical and scientific reasons, not just moral and existential ones.

Harrington, Anne. The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine (p. 18). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Her first story is The Power of Suggestion, as in my dying of a heart attack after being told by the shaman that I would when the cock crows.  I haven't gotten to the other stories yet.  She titles them 

The body that speaks

The power of positive thinking

Broken by modern life

Healing ties

Eastward journey

She also explains events that show it is not sufficient to cure patients but the cure must be socially and politically acceptable in that time and place. Her descriptions and language are both wonderful and sympathetic.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

"I'm not a huge fan of myself"

The title of this blog post comes from Garrison Keillor's column "How do you sleep at night? Here's how"

There are many books to help people get the right level of kindness and appreciation for themselves. We all know that we can think ourselves too wonderful for words.  There are calls, pressures, instructions for modesty.  If you haven't seen "Unorthodox" on Netflix, I highly recommend it.  The actress Shia Hass does a super job portraying a 19 year old deeply immersed in a culture that emphasizes modesty, circumspection, acceptance, most especially for women.  On the other hand, many people working with others and many people watching "Unorthodox" see the need for some people to become bigger fans, more ardent admirers of themselves.  

The well-known book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell is one of many documents that explain the direction a young man is likely to take in his early years.  He will be on a quest, a mission involving travel and danger.  He will meet a dragon or a villain and rescue a (beautiful, comely) girl from those nasty clutches, they will fall in love, and go off together to live happily ever after.  Generally, a writer or a boxer or mailroom clerk or a reporter needs to have a fairly high level of self confidence to succeed on a quest.  So, too much modesty, deliberation, caution could be a serious obstacle toward success.

It looks like we want enough fuel in our confidence tank to get us to the goal but not an oversupply.  

In case you are interested in the worldwide revolution, the one of women rising - there are many different ones, changes and revolutions happening at once - I recommend "She" by the late psychologist Robert A. Johnson.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Fwd: Bill, here’s why you should watch this talk...

Quite a few of these sound valuable.  Bill

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: TED Recommends <>
Date: Wed, Apr 22, 2020 at 5:33 AM
Subject: Bill, here's why you should watch this talk...
To: Bill <>

How to work through this time with responsibility, compassion and wisdom
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Recommended for Bill

Listening to Bill Gates talk, I'm filled with hope that we'll come together as a world to support and defeat this deadly pandemic. But to do that, we have to listen and take action now!

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