Monday, April 29, 2013

Smorgasbord:Harsh Realities, Secret Lives Of The Brain, A Vintage (Imaginary) Friend

Parents grow old and die. Seven years ago when a close friend lost her mother, I confronted this harsh reality for the first time. Suddenly the loss of a parent didn't happen in distant homes but occurred in the life of a beloved friend, a contemporary. I talked about it with another friend, A, who shared my fear and incredulity and said, "I can't even begin to imagine a life without my parents. Aami tu bhabiboi nuaru!" She echoed my deepest fear and spoke words that I didn't even dare say out loud lest they came true. Last Monday when A was holding onto the last minutes of sleep at dawn and her mother was picking up laundry, her father began gasping for breath in the adjacent room. Within five minutes, their lives underwent a tumultuous and irreversible change. Without any preceding illness, his demise was a traumatic shock to the family he left behind. I couldn't bring myself to call up or visit A till quite late in the day. Her previous words came back to me in a rush. The world that she just couldn't imagine was here now and the reality of ageing parents gripped me with a new fear. Over the past decade, my parents had a few serious health scares and I had nearly lost my father four years ago to sepsis and multi-organ dysfunction. But with the grace of God and their own concern towards their fitness, they lead much healthier lives now. No one can change certain unfortunate realities of life, but everyone of us can spending quality time with our parents instead of being cooped up with our own little worries and busy lives, get regular health check-ups for them, oversee their diet and exercise, and let love and laughter resonate each day.
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I have been reading David Eagleman's "Incognito: The Secret Lives Of The Brain" and despite being well aware of the physiology of that three pound of neural tissue that runs our entire lives, the book provided entirely new and deeper insights into the amazing machinery that is the brain. Imagination, emotions, decisions, intelligence, identity, aspirations, ideas, problem-solving, attention, vision, the entire human physiology and the vast world of the subconscious; everything comes alive in the book. It is a humbling and staggering realization that our conscious selves isn't the centre of our existence, and is way off in a distant orbit. Most of what happens in our lives aren't done by conscious effort or generated on their own, but is a modulation of innumerable stimuli, past information and experiences stored in the brain that it throws up to our conscious realization, and we go "hey, I just had this amazing idea". Our flawless vision where nothing escapes our notice can surprise us with new revelations depending on what we tune our attention to. An engaging and unputdownable book.
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I found this old library photograph from the 60s on Flavorwire, and I just can't get over how awesome and cool she looks. I now think of her as a Nabokov-reading vintage librarian who is also my imaginary best friend!

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