A piece that is worth reading for three reasons: it is about Bharati; it is about Tagore; it is by A R Venkatachalapathy! As a bonus, it is a rebuttal to one of Ashokamitran’s earlier pieces in the Hindu. What more can you ask for?
Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category
Over the past few years, I’ve been speaking in various colleges and institutions, and the thing they always want me to talk about is how I left engineering and carved out a new career for myself. It makes me laugh, because most of these colleges are engineering colleges, and the kids want to know how to get out of engineering. So along with the usual spiel about how I went about the whole thing, I also tell them this — that following your passion, your dream, is fine, but just keep in mind that one day it becomes a job.
That’s one thing you’re not really prepared for when you begin to “follow you passion,” that one day it will become a job, and the pieces you used to write at your leisure, for fun, for a break from the daily grind, now come with deadlines. No one tells you that, one day, the passion becomes the daily grind.
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Could modern cognitive theories explain character development in one of Austen’s most famous heroines — Pride and Prejudice‘s Elizabeth Bennett? Phillips thinks Bennett’s distractability was key to Austen’s characterization of her lively mind — and that Austen herself was drawing on the contemporary theories of cognition in her time.
If neuroscience could inform literature, Phillips asked, could literature inform neuroscience?
She decided to conduct a study, looking at how reading affects the brain. She had volunteers lie still in a brain scanner and read Austen. Phillips sometimes instructed her volunteers to browse, as they might do at a bookstore. Other times, she asked them to delve deep, as a scholar might read a text while conducting a literary analysis.
Phillips said the experiment produced some surreal moments: “If you asked me on a top 10 list of things that I did not expect to find myself doing as an 18th-centuryist when I first started this study on the history of distraction, I would say laying on my back in an MRI scanner trying to figure out how to position paragraphs by Jane Austen so that you wouldn’t have to turn your head while reading with a mirror.”
Phillips and her collaborators scanned the brains of the volunteers using a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine. The scanner paints a rough picture of brain activity. A computer program simultaneously tracked readers’ eye movements across the page, and researchers kept tabs on the volunteers’ breathing and heart rate. At the end of the experiment, Phillips asked each volunteer to write a short essay based on the passages he or she read.
Neuroscientists warned Phillips she wouldn’t see many brain differences between the casual reading and intense reading.
“Everyone told me to expect these really, really minute and subtle effects,” she said, “because everyone was going to be doing the same thing, right? Reading Jane Austen. And they were just going to be doing it in two different ways.”
Phillips said she mainly expected to see differences in parts of the brain that regulate attention because that was the main difference between casual and focused reading.
But in a neuroscientific plot twist, Phillips said preliminary results showed otherwise: “What’s been taking us by surprise in our early data analysis is how much the whole brain — global activations across a number of different regions — seems to be transforming and shifting between the pleasure and the close reading.”
Phillips found that close reading activated unexpected areas: parts of the brain that are involved in movement and touch. It was as though readers were physically placing themselves within the story as they analyzed it.
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I am financially successful now; I pay a lot of taxes. I don’t mind because I know how taxes helped me to get to the fortunate position I am in today. I hope the taxes I pay will help some military wife give birth, a mother who needs help feed her child, help another child learn and fall in love with the written word, and help still another get through college. Likewise, I am in a socially advantageous position now, where I can help promote the work of others here and in other places. I do it because I can, because I think I should and because I remember those who helped me. It honors them and it sets the example for those I help to help those who follow them.
I know what I have been given and what I have taken. I know to whom I owe. I know that what work I have done and what I have achieved doesn’t exist in a vacuum or outside of a larger context, or without the work and investment of other people, both within the immediate scope of my life and outside of it. I like the idea that I pay it forward, both with the people I can help personally and with those who will never know that some small portion of their own hopefully good fortune is made possible by me.
So much of how their lives will be depends on them, of course, just as so much of how my life is has depended on my own actions. We all have to be the primary actors in our own lives. But so much of their lives will depend on others, too, people near and far. We all have to ask ourselves what role we play in the lives of others — in the lives of loved ones, in the lives of our community, in the life of our nation and in the life of our world. I know my own answer for this. It echoes the answer of those before me, who helped to get me where I am.
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NB: Hattip to my friend Sirish Waghulde for email alert.
Not as great as some of her other novels and even a bit disappointing; however, even when it is bad, James is good enough to make you put a night out or two to finish the novel. Worth a read, surely. Here is an extract, if you are interested.
I read Thomas Hager’s The Demon under the microscope: from battlefield hospitals to Nazi labs, one doctor’s heroic search for the world’s first miracle drug.
It is a great read; I strongly recommend it. It talks primarily about Gerhard Domagk and his work.
As a kid, I remember taking sulfaguanidine; the book talks about the discovery of sulfa drugs and how it changed the way drugs are discovered, the way medicines are sold as well as the way medical care is provided.
I have only two complaints — I would have preferred the footnotes along with the text (even though such an approach slows down the reading) and, I would have preferred some pictures — of the players in the story, of the paintings and places that Hager talks about, along with may be the structures of some of the chemicals that make an appearance.
PS: Thanks to Doug for the recommendation (and, Flipkart which got the book delivered to me within a few days of my ordering it). Now, I am looking forward to the arrival of the second book that Doug recommended, The alchemy of air.