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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.

A BOOK REVIEW : LIGHT FROM MANY LAMPS



Great lives give great inspiration.

If wisdom of ages is properly archived, it would definitely help to the succeeding generations.

The book Light from many Lamps, edited by Lillian Eichler Watson' is a perfect blend of wisdom of East and West. It is a storehouse of inspiring quotes with caricature of world’s renowned personalities.

This book is a result of long labour by Watson in culling out the wisdom of past centuries. As the cover flap truly suggests, it is a book of infinite richness and abiding values.

This book is not meant for casual reading. It is a book which you have to come back and forth to endure your sufferings and lift your spirits.

Reading this prose will change the trajectory of your thoughts. The starting page itself is a minefield of timeless wisdom . "Who is a wise man ? In reply, Talmud says that ' He who learns of all men'. The contents of this book is broadly divided into interesting chapters like 'Happiness and Enjoyment of living' and "Faith and inner calm etc . The labour involved in writing a book is better explained by Samuel Johnson ' A man will turn over half a library to make one book'.

While reading this book, the reader gets an opportunity to know the lives of some of the greatest philosophers of past centuries. These immortal words of Charles Kingsley would inspire anybody : " Thank God every morning when you get up that you have something to do which must be done whether you like it or not. Being forced to work and forced to do your best, will breed in you temperance, self-control, diligence, strength of will, content and a hundred other virtues which the idle never know' and "Faith and inner calm etc.

The book also has chapters on Rome's best known philosopher Seneca. America's best known President Abraham Lincoln finds place twice in the book. It has chapters on Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Shakespeare, Hippocrates, ST. Paul, Confucius and many more epic personalities.

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in his book "My Journey : Transforming Dreams into Actions" mentions this book as one of his three favourite books. Befitting to its tile "Light from many Lamps", truly gives you 'Inner Light' !

GITANJALI - POETRY AT ITS BEST

 
It is exactly over a century ago in November, 1913, a man with flowing beard and sweeping robes of India brought the first Nobel prize for his masterly work called Gitanjali (Song offerings) which is nothing but a loose translations of his Bengali poems.

Rabindranath Tagore is a multi-facet personality of India He is a poet, novelist, playwright, painter, essayist and music composer. He is the first non-European Nobel laureate in literature. His poetry stands aside from the mainstream poets of English world. His open minded reasoning is a celebration of human freedom. Humanism and universalism are the underlying threads of all his literary works.

Gitanjali is a culmination of his accumulated wisdom. This child prodigy churned out his first verse when he was 13.

Gitanjali is a timeless classic that centers on man’s eternal quest. It is a spiritual poetry of 103 beautifully weaved verses in an orderly fashion. Through his work, Tagore shows the path towards the ultimate freedom.

Generally, we are attracted to poetry of rhythmic sounds which is not seen here. What matters here is sophistication of ideas and Tagore poured out his heart in simple lucid prose.

Had the Gurudev not translated Gitanjali into English, perhaps, his poetic beauty might have limited to Bengal only. By doing so, he gives large audience an opportunity to devour his poetry.

When you read Gitanjali, you could say that he became voice of India’s spiritual heritage. When, he was awarded the Nobel prize, vanity did not come on his way. This telegram he flashed on 10th December, 1913 for banquet speech of Award ceremony is strewn with spirituality “I beg to convey to the Swedish Academy my grateful appreciation of the breadth of understanding which has brought the distant near, and has made a stranger a brother”.

His poems are rhetorically simple with philosophical gravity. He left a heritage which no fire could consume, says the noted Bengali film director Satyajit Ray in his documentary on Rabindranath Tagore made in 1961. Ray terms his literature as heritage of words, poetry of ideas and ideals.

The great Irish poet W.B. Yeats who himself was Nobel laureate in 1923, in his Introduction to Gitanjali says that ‘though these prose translations from Rabindranath Tagore have stirred my blood as nothing has for years, I shall not know anything of his life, and of the movements of thought that have made them possible, if some Indian traveler will not tell me.’ Yeats made a sweeping remark that ‘We write long books where no page perhaps has any quality to make writing a pleasure, being confident in some general design, just as we fight and make money and fill our heads with politics – all dull things in the doing – while Mr. Tagore, like the Indian civilization itself, has been content to discover the soul and surrender himself to its spontaneity'.

Gitanjali makes a fiery start with THOU HAST made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fills it ever with fresh life. At some other place, assuming himself as little flower, Tagore earnestly pleads Almighty “ PLUCK THIS little flower and take it, delay not! I fear lest it droop and drop into the dust.

The cornerstone of Gitanjali is this verse which could well-up your eyes with a sense of gratitude “My poet’s vanity dies in shame before thy sight. O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet. Only let me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music.’

While advising contentment in life, Tagore says that “Day by day thou art making me worthy of the simple, great gifts that thou gives to me unasked – this sky and the light, this body and the life and the mind – saving me from perils of overmuch desire.” Many more such soul-stirring verses in Gitanjali are the nuggets of wisdom which takes your soul to new heights.

The real tribute you could pay to this master poet is to read Gitanjali in its entirety and try to grasp its inner dimension which is sublime, musical, mystical and thought provoking!


BUFF YOUR BRAIN

 

In the last two decades, brain science has advanced to phenomenal levels. However, the fact remains is, whatever we discovered is only a tiny fraction of what there is to know about human brain !

Look at this 3 pound mass jelly which consists of 100 billion intricate network of neurons. Each neuron makes synaptic connection (points of contacts where information is shared between neurons) anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000. The permutations and combinations it could make is beyond the elementary particles of known universe. The fuel oxygen is 20 % of our total intake.

Numerous studies have been made on the cognitive abilities of humans which indicate that if we learn a second language, the cortical circuits that hold both languages, become active. The prefrontal cortex which is just behind our forehead, the so called CEO of our brain then steps in to choose the right word.

During brain anatomy studies, researchers observed that the gifted writers and poets may have excess connections between word and language areas of the brain. Likewise gifted painters and graphic artists may have excess connections between high-level visual areas.

Brain scans of London cab drivers gave an interesting insight. They have been found with larger posterior hippocampus, the region which files the spatial memories. These findings reiterate the fact that any skill can be cultivated by repetition which will not only improve our motor abilities but activate the non-mechanical parts of brain and fine-tune those abilities.

Brain is simply not a processing machine but a data warehouse. All the events of our life are stored in memory which is categorized into three kinds: procedural memory (new skills like bicycling), semantic memory (factual knowledge) and episodic memory. If we don't take enough care about what we are reading, seeing or hearing, it won't be retained in our mind.

Research also reveals that handwriting engages more sections of the brain than typing. It becomes easy to remember something written down on paper. So next time when your child faces any memory retention problems, ask her/him to write down which  solves the problem.

Scientists believe that our greater cognitive capacity comes from having more neurons or synapses. The compounds such as BNDF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) stimulates the production of new neurons and synapses. Physical activity gives enormous boost to the brain power. Walking 30 minutes a day stimulates the production of BNDF for creation of new neurons and synapses that underlie learning. Laboratory studies reveal that exercise increases grey matter in the region of the hippo-campus that processes new knowledge and dispatches it to permanent storage in the frontal cortex.

Meditation increases the thickness of regions that control attention and processing of sensory signals from the outside world. Indulging too much in gizmos will only lower our natural abilities. See how our mathematical ability has fallen drastically after the advent of calculators !

Engaging in constant activity will seriously jeopardize the brain performance. Those who want to ride with time should also listen that a nap in the afternoon not only restores brain power to its fully awake best, but can also raise it beyond what it would have been without some shut-eye. Studies also show that 15 minutes after-noon nap is ideal to refresh the mind. That's why the search engine giant Google went a step ahead in providing nap pods for their employees and others must follow the suit to increase the employee productivity.

The more you know about your brain, the more still remains to know. The old myth about human body as a structure should be replaced with what mind-body medicine expert Dr. Deepak Chopra calls as "Energy and Information Field.'

To put it in a flash of insight : an intention to excel in any activity is the prime driver to keep your brain at best!