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FORGOTTEN CLASSIC

 

Folk wisdom demands a book review of only new books being published. But sometimes an exception needs to be drawn to some timeless classics of older times.

Dr. Alexis Carrel's book "Man the Unknown' falls under this category. It is a book that delves deep into understanding complex human system. This book is one of the three favorite books of  Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam, the former President of India who shared it in his book 'My Journey - Transforming Dreams into Actions (published in 2013). In Dr. Kalam's own words, the book is a description of the human body - how it is an intelligent, integrated system - is explained clearly and brilliantly. He recommends the book for everyone, especially for those whose aim is to study the medical sciences.

Dr. Alexis Carrel is a Nobel laureate in Physiology/ Medicine in 1912. He spent his life promoting spiritualism. When this book was published in 1935, it became an instant best seller, because he cleverly separated the known from the unknown.

What he crystallizes is the existence of unknown and the unknowable. What he said more than eight decades ago still holds good, because we are still in no way nearer to the understanding of basic tenets of life which is self-organizing and also in perfect symphony with Nature.

In fact, the development of science and technology has deepened the mystery of our own existence. Still we don't know where our memory is stored. According to Harvard Medical School professor Rudy Tanzi who is one of the world's foremost experts on the causes of Alzheimer's ( a disease of memory loss) says that we don't know where memory is stored at cellular level though we know that it is conjured up inside the brain.

The book is an interesting journey slowly unraveling truths of human system which is author's long labour and patient research.

Happiness is not a pill we can administer to a person. On this count, Dr. Carrel says that we can not artificially give any individual the formula for happiness.

His insights say that men of genius are not tall. Mussolini is of the medium size and Napoleon was short. While answering the science's most puzzled question, Dr. Carrel says that we don't know the relationship between consciousness and nervous processes. It is still a mystery today to scientists how certain chemical reactions at sub atomic level in the body give the feeling of I'ness or subjective experience - qualia which they term it as 'hard problem'.

Dwelling on the significance of exercise, Dr. Carrel says that certain exercises appear to stimulate thought. For this reason, he relates that Aristotle and his disciples were in the habit of walking while discussing the fundamental problems of philosophy and science. With regard to beauty, he says that the sense of beauty does not develop spontaneously. It exists in our consciousness in a potential state. On the importance of books, Dr. Carrel says that school teachers and university professors, as well as libraries, laboratories, books and reviews are adequate means for developing the mind. Even in the absence of professors, he says that books could be suffice for this task.

The most striking advice from Dr. Carrel is 'work is more effective than alcohol'. The more a muscle works, he says the more it develops. Activity strengthens it, instead of wearing it out.

While analyzing the personality, Dr Carrel says that the richer the personality, the greater would be the individual differences. As he peels off man, he finds vast unknown regions whose potentialities are almost inexhaustible. Equilibrium, he says is obtained in a large measure by intelligence and self control. Dr. Carrel wraps up the book with this exhortation : " We must liberate ourselves from blind technology and grasp the complexity and wealth of our own nature"

A must read book for a holistic approach towards understanding the man who is the crown of creation.

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