Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

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Today we’re exploring diabetes with owls. Special guest? David Sedaris.

Well, actually, we’re not. This book’s a collection of humoristic essays from Sedaris’ life (plus a few fictional ones), so the title sorta had to be broken from the world of the absurd. There are owls in this book though (not just on the cover ).

I loved this book for bedtime reading, which is why the picture above is the way it is. Inspired, huh? What I can’t say I loved quite as much were those fictional essays of his. I suppose they provided a nice break from the other essays, but I wasn’t looking for a break from them, which is probably why they didn’t work for me. Some of them I found straight out too dark to be part of this book, and quite frankly, this annoyed me a little. But thankfully, they were only a few, so it didn’t ruin the whole book. Yaay!

There are plenty of life lessons in this one, but I must say: I didn’t try that hard to look for them. Rather, I simply enjoyed the book and its stories, as I felt that this is the way this book should be read.

Nevertheless, I’m not gonna go without giving you the overall lesson that kept jumping out from the pages of these essays. It just wouldn’t be right, considering this blog:

You can get a laugh out of nearly every life situation.

Of course there are some life situations even the most devoted comedian should leave aside and not explore. But most of them? They’re hella funny! Change the angle you’re looking from, or pay closer attention to the details around you. Who knows? This may make your life better. I’d recommend your read David Sedaris for a lesson into the art of funny-ing everything.

/Larisa

 

Recommended reading:

Owls, Yes, But Also Kookaburras And Dentists In Sedaris’ Latest: http://www.npr.org/2013/04/10/176785307/owls-yes-but-also-kookaburras-and-dentists-in-sedaris-latest

“Be the Pack Leader” and “Cesar’s Rules” by Cesar Millan

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I my last post, I mentioned that I wanted to write about a book I finished a while ago. Well, surprise, surprise, I am going to write about TWO books. Yaaay!

The reason I decide to put them together is that they’re both on the same topic, and by the same author: dogs, and Cesar Millan, respectively.

I’ve mentioned in past blogs that I have two dogs. They are known under various names, including “Monkey”, “Baby boy”,”Little fella”, “Silly face”, and pretty much anything else I come up with, but their actual names are Tommy and Lupu. Tommy is the eldest, and he received his name because my grandmother had a dog named Tommy in her youth, and I though that it would make her happy to have another 4-legged creature with the same name. Lupu received his name because his fur resembled that of a wolf (and “Lupu” means “wolf” in Romanian), but as I found out, his personality doesn’t match his name in any respect. Still, it’s a cool contrast.

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But back to the topic. I bought these books a while ago, and after having read them,I gotta say: man, I wish I had them when my silly faces were babies. I guess it was just one of those things, where because I had grown up with dogs, I was under the impression I knew all there was to know about them.

Not so, not so. The more time passed, the more I realized how little I actually know about these creatures I had spent my entire childhood with. I’m glad I read them, because now I understand my dogs better. I no longer expect more than they’re capable of giving, and my relationship with them has improved. Well, not entirely, but you know…gettin’ there :).

Now, on to the lessons. As per usual, these are just a few of the things I learnt, because if I were to write everything, it would take a while.

1.Dogs are animals.

You’re probably going like “No shit, Sherlock!”. Yeah, I know…sounds pretty obvious. But you see, I believe many of us (including me), think of dogs as sort of weird-looking humans, and expect from them things that only a human can do. We expect them to understand when we’re sad, and we want them to comfort us. Surely, all those movies we’ve seen must show exactly how dogs actually act, right? While a very few dogs do react to sadness in the specific way we would want them to, most don’t. I’m not saying here that they don’t perceive it; just that they don’t know how we want them to react to that. There are plenty of other examples, and perhaps I’ll tackle this topic later on, but you get the point: treat dogs like they’re dogs, adjust your expectations of them, and your relationship will improve.

    2.  Dogs need to be respected.

This is a perfect sag-way from what I just talked about before,because it gives me a chance to explain myself. When I say that dogs should be treated like what they are, I in no way mean that they should be treated badly. Absolutely no way. They are little beings, and should be treated in the best way possible. Only thing is, they should be treated in the best way possible according to their own needs, which are driven by their genes (aka by their innate “dogness”). Many people forget that dogs need to be respected,in more ways than one. They may not be “smart” in the way you expect them to be, but they sure as hell have a bright mind.Even the less…umm…cognitively-gifted ones still have qualities that need to be respected. Find those qualities, and appreciate your doggie for them.

   3. Dogs need exercise.

They’re active creatures, and they’re used to getting their hearts pumping. Run with them, go for walks, play, or do anything that you and your little one may enjoy. Here’s the thing: don’t expect them to be super well-behaved dogs when they’re carrying a lot of extra energy with them. They might just need to release it by…say, chewing all your furniture.

 4. Take responsibility.

Another obvious one, that a lot of people seem to forget. It’s your dog, so it’s your responsibility. If you haven’t had time to invest in their training, don’t complain about how “badly” they behave. They are simply doing what is in their nature, they’re not doing it to spite you. If you haven’t train them well, don’t expect that by the grace of some unknown Dog Lords, your little one will act exactly as you want him or her to act. Oh, and one more thing: if you don’t have time for a dog, don’t buy one, only to realize a few months later that you can’t take care of one. That’s how dogs end up on the street and end up with miserable lives.

5. Enforce boundaries.

Yes, dogs need love to thrive. You know what else they need? Boundaries. Dogs are used to living in a pack, where the alpha enforces boundaries so that the entire pack is happy. When they lack those boundaries, they are not in their “natural” state, and as much as you think they like it, they don’t. And you probably don’t like it when they don’t listen. A well-behaved dog is a happy one, and has a happy owner.

 

These are just a few of the lessons these books have taught me. Cesar Millan is a wonderful teacher when it comes to dogs, and I love using his approach. While there’s still a bit to go with my own pups, I have already learnt a lot from him and his books.

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What rules do you have for your dogs? I’d love to know! 🙂

/Larisa

 

 

Emotions Revealed: Understanding Faces and Feelings by Paul Ekman

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I’m back, after taking one of those breaks that seems to be never-ending. I’ve done quite a lot during this break, including: finishing my exams, reading a lot, travelling to a different continent, and, my personal favorite, falling off a horse and breaking my left arm. Yup, that’s right, but maybe we’ll talk about that some other time. For now, let’s get back to the lovely book this post is about.

Emotions Revealed” is the first book (and only, up to now), I’ve read by Dr. Ekman, and it was one of those books that I had wanted to get for a loooong time before actually getting it. That’s because I had heard about Paul Ekman here and there in my psych courses. However, my major source of fascination with him came from watching the TV Show Lie to Me. You know…that TV show that was cut waaay short after only 3 seasons…

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Yeah, that’s the one….

So, after quite a while of what I can only call stalking Paul Ekman’s official website, I decided to finally purchase the book, which took even a longer while to read. Not because it’s hard to read. On the contrary, this book is clear as can be, with detailed explanations that are absolutely fascinating. However, between me having absolutely no time to read most of the school year, and this book being left at home when I left for uni…well, you get the picture.

As I just said, this book is a fascinating read (especially for those psychology-inclined, though not just for them), as it really has a lot to teach its readers.

 

1)You Can Identify Emotions on People’s Faces, Even before They, Themselves, Know about Them…and Even When They’re Trying to Hide Them

Think about what it would be like to know when your boss is slightly unhappy, or when your friend is sad, but is trying to look happy. This book is great at teaching you to identify emotions on people’s faces, so that you’ll be much better at it. Sure, we can all identify a smile, but can you tell the difference between a real smile and a fake one? Or when someone’s actually sad, as opposed to just pretending that they are so?

If you’ve wanted to be able to do that, this book is a great starting point for you, because it has valuable information, backed up by great, detailed pictures that help the learning process.

 

2)Controlling Your Own Emotions is a Skill that You Can Develop with Practice

We often forget that the most important emotions we should be able to read are our own. Indeed, if we can do that, then we can avoid having many, many arguments with our loved ones, or even with complete strangers (this obviously rings true of a particular emotion, namely, anger). All you have to do is realize when an emotion is starting out, and act accordingly.

Of course, you shouldn’t expect to get good at it overnight, but as long as you keep on practicing the tools Dr. Ekman gives in his book, you’ll get better and better.

 

3)You Shouldn’t Be Quick to Jump to Conclusions

Another thing that Dr. Ekman talks about in this book is the fact that you should steer clear of making assumptions about why a person is feeling the way they are. Sure, you can learn to identify emotions pretty accurately, but this doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to read the person’s mind, and get behind the reason for why they’re happy, angry, or sad.

 

This book has a lot of great information in it, and I would happily recommend it to anyone, anytime : )

/Larisa

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

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I finally finished reading this book! I realize that it sounds like I feel relieved to have done so, because it is, partially, that. After having felt so guilty for the last few months for failing to finish it, I managed to. However, finishing this book under normal circumstances (aka if I would have had time), would have by no means inspired such a feeling. Rather, it would have made me feel sad at having parted with such an interesting read (though the parting is not permanent, as I can revisit it from time to time).

More than this, however, I would have felt wary, which I am experiencing as we speak. Wary of what we, as people, are doing to this beautiful world, and wary of what our actions will cause in the future. I think that this was the exact kind of thing that Kolbert would have wanted us to feel after having read this book, so I commend her on having achieved that.

Let’s have a look at some of the lessons this book teaches us (there are many more), and let’s try to understand what they all mean, because I’m sure you’ve heard them before:

1) What We Are Doing to the Planet Affects it Badly

We hear about climate change all the time. No seriously, ALL. THE. TIME. Because of this, it can be easy to feel frustrated at hearing the same damn thing over and over again, and forget what this actually means. It means that so many organisms will lose their homes, or the conditions that made it possible for a certain place to be their home, and while they are losing that, we will be losing them.

2) Living Organisms are Dependent on Each Other

You might think “Oh well…so a bunch of frogs (substitute any other organism you might have heard about) are going to die. So what?” . You might not care about those frogs, but you should remember that those frogs are not an independent part of the world. They are a part of it, and there are other organisms that rely on their existence so that they can exist too. Take frogs out of the equation, and you’re taking other beings as well.

3) Changing the Environment Means Affecting (Sometimes Killing) the Species that Lived There

It’s hard to become aware of just how much the environment means to everything on Earth. One small change in that environment (I’m sure you’ve heard about deforestation), and BOOM! A whole host of living organisms disappear into oblivion, where they won’t come back from (not without us trying to get them back to life they won’t). Keep this going, and in a short enough time, there will be nearly no organisms alive, maybe except for us and a few others. But hey! don’t we need other beings to survive? I guess we won’t be alive for that much longer if other animals go extinct.

“The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History”, by Elizabeth Kolbert is a truly wonderful book. It’s written clearly, which means that you won’t need any prior knowledge so that you can understand what’s going on. Also, she manages to keep in interesting, so that the reader doesn’t get bored. This is quite difficult to achieve, since a lot of the time she is talking about species that most people don’t know much about. Keeping the whole thing interesting is, in it of itself an achievement.

All in all, I think this book is perfect for anyone out there who wants to learn more about the world around them. I think those who don’t want to know what’s happening need to read it even more, but no one can be forced to read a book, so that’s that.

Before I go, I want to mention an interesting argument that I have heard many times, but the most memorable time was when I heard it from George Carlin (via a youtube video). He was saying that species used to go extinct before man came along, that they’re doing it now, and that they’ll always do it, so we shouldn’t do anything to intervene.

While I love George Carlin, I disagree with him, and this book gives me more reason to do so. It is true that species used to go extinct: that’s the whole point of natural selection. Keep what works, and get rid of what doesn’t. But now a lot more species are going extinct, and not because they weren’t well-equipped to deal with their environment. It is because we have change their environment a lot faster than environments would have normally changed if it wouldn’t have been for us. So, while I’m sure some of the species going extinct are doing so of natural causes, most of them are going because of unnatural ones.

/Larisa

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Is Selfishness Good? “The Virtue of Selfishness”, by Ayn Rand

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Before actually beginning to talk about this book, let me just mention how glad I am to be able to finally write this post. I received this book (from a friend who knew I really wanted it)…I think nearly two years ago now, and I somehow didn’t get around to finishing it until today. Even after having started reading it over a month ago, other stuff (such as my exams) kept getting in the way. Thankfully, I can finally say I’ve finished it.

The question of whether I liked it or not is a complicated one. You might be thinking “Come on! It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type of question. What can possibly be so complicated?” That’s true, but I’m afraid that I’ll have to say “yes” to some parts, and “no” to other parts of it. Don’t mistake this for a “maybe”, which implies an evasive answer, or some grayness. Taking the “gray” attitude, particularly when it comes to something written by Ayn Rand, would be ironic, to say the least (for those who are not familiar with her writings, she highly condemns not choosing a side).

You see, I’m a fan of the general idea of acting out of what Ayn Rand terms “selfishness”, word which she uses differently than it is normally used. We generally use the term to talk about someone who is highly immoral, and would do anything to achieve what he or she wants. Rand, on the other hand, uses the term to mean “concern with one’s own interest”. As such, she points out that acting out of selfishness isn’t merely desirable, but necessary.

The part that I don’t like is that her entire philosophy is resting on a tremendous misunderstanding of human psychology. Mainly, she assumes that the workings of the human mind are like a “blank slate”, which can easily be modified by the values one has. The problem is that this was proven to be false. We come into the world with a sort of baggage, dictated by our genes. Of course, our environment also plays a role in defining us, but it is not the only factor. This may not make her theory impossible, but it surely makes it a lot more difficult to use.

I won’t go into more details explaining her philosophy (except for indirectly, through the lessons I’ll outline), but you can imagine that with this big mistake in using human psychology, the rest of her ideas have to suffer as well. However, she still makes some very good points, and I believe those shouldn’t be left neglected.

1)      Morality is Not Only Useful, but Necessary for Us

Rand points out that morality offers us with much needed guidance to proper interaction between people. Also, it helps us identify the right type of values to hold.

2)      One Must Take Responsibility for His/Her Actions

Yeah, no kidding, huh? However, despite the fact that this is quite a popular principle, very few people seem to actually put it in practice. It’s easy to take responsibility for our actions when they amount to good things, but when they’re consequences are bad, we’ll do quite a lot to hide them, or even to blame others for them. Perhaps we should pay more attention to this.

3)      Unethical People’s Survival is Made Possible by Those Who Are Ethical

A good example for this is a robber. The only reason he has something to steal is because there is someone who made the money in the “right way” to begin with. If it were not for that person, the robber would starve.

4)      Sacrificing is Giving Up Something You Value for Something of a Lesser Value

If you use this definition for the word, then it becomes quite obvious why Rand is so quick to go against this act. Keep in mind the implications of this definition: if you give up watching the soccer game to help your friend, this doesn’t mean you’ve sacrificed. That’s because you value your friend more than you value the soccer game, so giving one up for the other doesn’t mean you’re losing value.

5)      Judging People Isn’t Bad

Rand explains that you should assess people in order to be able to interact with them accordingly. However, this assessment should be made based on rational grounds, not on a whim.

These are the main lessons that can be taken from the book, though there are a lot more. If you have any questions, make sure to let me know! I’ll try my best to answer them (considering I am not a philosopher).

/Larisa

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“Blink”, by Malcolm Gladwell

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“The results from these experiments are, obviously quite disturbing. They suggest that what we think of as freewill is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on automatic pilot, and the way we think and act – and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment – are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realize.” (Gladwell, 58)

I finally found the time to finish Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, and I’m glad I did. It’s an immensely helpful book to read, particularly if you’re the kind of person who has a hard time following their instinct. In essence, Blink shows you where your instincts come from, and it’s not from the sky above. Rather, they come from your subconscious, which operates without your awareness. This is why many times we have “a feeling” that “something’s just not right”, but we fail to give a rational reason for why we feel the way we do. Quite an interesting phenomenon, especially because it appears as though our minds are divided into two parts, that don’t do a good job communicating with one another.

Gladwell tries to show through this book, that sometimes we’re better off following the subconscious, because it is somehow trained to make lightning fast decisions. He doesn’t attempt to give his readers a glimpse of how this process takes place, because the truth is, no one really knows. What he does explain is that it appears that the subconscious has evolved to take into consideration many factors, and come up with an output, which is what gives us a certain feeling.

He also points out, quite justly, that this fast decision making can get us into trouble. Since our conscious (of which we also know very little), makes mistakes all the time, why wouldn’t our subconscious be liable to the same issue?

But let’s turn to the lessons Blink can teach its readers:

1)      Snap Judgments Aren’t All that Bad

As I said in the intro, Blink concentrates on defending the judgements that come from our subconscious. Yes, they’re hidden from our awareness, but that doesn’t necessarily make them bad. Perhaps in our desire to control everything, we have forgotten that some things simply cannot be controlled. But Gladwell reminds us of this fact, and points out just how wonderful snap judgements can actually be.

2)      Tests Aren’t Always the Best Indicator of Knowledge

This issue is highly debated in the education system, for good reasons. Many claim that tests (exams, quizzes, and whatever else they might be called) only show the ability of a student to memorize information, which is quite different from knowing. Plus, there’s always the problem of too much pressure on one particular occasion. Many things can go wrong in one day, and so it is unfair to judge a student’s knowledge on his or her performance on one particular occasion. What if s/he was sick, or stressed that day?

Now, Malcolm Gladwell adds one more worry to the mixture (which, to be fair, is not a new one at all). Mainly, that we seem to be quite easily fooled into thinking we’re less smart than we are. For example, research has suggested that simply reminding girls of the fact that they’re girls causes them to perform worse on math tests than boys do. In this case, the general stereotype that girls are worse at math than boys are comes into play, sabotaging the females’ performance.

3)      The Subconscious Can Lead Us Astray

But so can our conscious. So where exactly is the problem? Well, the thing about our conscious is that we’re aware of its workings. This means that when it go wrong, we can rewind, analyze the process, and understand where we went wrong. With the subconscious, however, we cannot do that. Because the processes are hidden from us, this means that we can’t correct our thinking. Essentially, we could be making the same mistake over and over again without even realizing.

This is not to say that we should not listen to the subconscious at all. However, we do need to pay particular attention to when it goes wrong, and perhaps avoid allowing it to influence us in those circumstances. Prejudices are one great example of when the subconscious should not be listened to.

4)      We’re Remarkably Bad at Knowing What Drives Us

Once again, since the subconscious operates outside of conscious awareness, by definition it means that we are not aware of what factors it takes into calculating a certain outcome. This means that often times, we are extremely bad at trying to understand why we feel the way we feel. We can, of course, try to come up with explanations that fit our behaviours. We’re quite good at that. But having those explanations match the actual reasons for what we did…now that’s a different thing entirely.

5)      Without the “Subconscious”, We’d Be Unable to Make Decisions

Particularly, we’re talking here about emotions, which can easily be classified as part of the subconscious. This seems rather hard to believe at first, especially if you’re someone who thinks of themselves as highly rational. We often think that when we take important decisions, we are logical about them. This may be the case partially. However, emotions are the ones that have the last say in the matter, as they act as the final “push” towards a certain direction.

So, you may be asking yourself “When should I go with what the subconscious tells me to do?”. I’m asking myself the same question, and Blink hasn’t answered it. However, I don’t think that this is blameworthy. As I mentioned earlier, scientists don’t yet understand the conscious, which is quite open to us. Discussing the workings of the subconscious seems quite farfetched in this context.

Regardless, I would still recommend this book if you’re interested in scratching the surface of an amazing topic. It’s easy to follow, and it gives some fascinating insight.

/Larisa

 

“Forever Today”, by Deborah Wearing

DSCN0971 “At first sight, when you are looking only at the amnesia, it is scary beyond belief. But I was looking at Clive, and he was living evidence that you could lose almost everything you ever knew about yourself and still be yourself.” (Wearing 272)

“Forever Today”, by Deborah Wearing is a book that tells the (true) story of a man (Clive Wearing), who developed a severe case of amnesia. Told by his wife, this story becomes much more. She is capable of seeing her husband in a light that doctors would have never been capable of. This gives her the possibility of turning this story into one about love in the time of hardship.

A treasure for those interested in psychology, and a wonder for those who want to learn about love’s boundaries, this book has it all. Perhaps the only objection I have to it, is that sometimes it was too sentimental for my liking. Where I wanted the story to proceed and get to the point, it often lingered and discussed details I wasn’t interested in. The caring nature of the writer comes through in many aspects of the book, which sometimes bothered me. Often times, I wanted to learn the facts. Though these came eventually, I had to waste energy untangling them from the romantic descriptions.

However, it is precisely this manner of describing such a terrifying condition that makes this book unique. Wearing sees her husband as a person, not as a simple patient or subject. Because of this, she is able to notice the behaviors in Clive Wearing that are due to his personality, and the ones that are due to the acquired disability. This gives the reader a chance to comprehend the magnitude of the emotions felt by both the husband and the wife. However, a true and deep understanding of these is impossible for those who have not undergone such misfortune.

Clive Wearing’s amnesia is a total one. That means that he had lost both his capacity to recall events from his past (aside from a very few ones), and the capacity to form new memories. The first kind of amnesia is the one you’re most likely to have heard of before. The second, not so much.

What both these kinds of amnesia have done is that they’ve left the man stuck in the “now” for the rest of his life. He is limited to a period of roughly 10 seconds of memory given by the short-term component of it, which remained intact. After those 10 seconds of information are erased, they’re gone for good (or almost, as we will see below). Then, everything seems new to him once again. This process has resulted in him thinking each time his memory is cleared that he has awakened from a death-like state.

Now, on to the lessons you can learn from reading this book:

1)      The Subconscious is a Powerful Force

I’ve discussed the topic of the subconscious in a previous post, and I will do so because of the book I am currently reading. However, I couldn’t just ignore this part of the book, because it is quite amazing. Clive Wearing, though unable to recall information consciously, still retained information in his subconscious. This memory is known as implicit memory, which is mostly reserved for action-based knowledge. For example, when you’ve been driving for some time, you don’t have to consciously think about the motions you undergo in the process. They come naturally to you, because they have been ingrained in your memory. This was observed in Clive Wearing as well. He retained his capacity to play the piano (he had been a conductor). More interestingly, he showed signs of having learnt new things, though he wasn’t aware he did. For example, he was moved to a house after years of having acquired the disability. After a while of having been there, if he were asked where the kitchen was, he’d say he doesn’t know. That’s because the conscious part of his mind truly did not know. However, if he were asked to bring…say, a glass of water, he’d go to the kitchen, open the right cupboard, get it.

2)      Governments Should be More Flexible to the Needs of Their Citizens

I was going to name this lesson “Governments aren’t perfect”, and then I went like “Geez, no kidding”. The main point, however, remains the same. Upon reading “Forever Today”, the reader is forced to see the struggle Deborah Wearing faced because there was nothing implemented by the government to deal with people of Clive’s condition. She went to form an association known as the Amnesia Association, whose main role was to raise awareness of this disability. Another important role was to make the government make room in its health system for people like Clive Wearing. However, this process was a long and difficult one, which makes anyone arrive to the conclusion that increased flexibility is needed. (I, however, don’t claim to know how this flexibility should be achieved)

3)      Sometimes Medicine Doesn’t Have All the Answers

This becomes even truer the deeper you go into the past. However, there are instances that are quite close to the present in which medicine was incapable of offering help. This was what happened with Clive Wearing, who was misdiagnosed several times. He suffered from Herpesviral encephalitis, which is a viral infection that is incredibly rare. This wasn’t clear from the start, however, and this lead to him not receiving the correct treatment. Nevertheless, the treatment didn’t have very big chances of helping, as even today it is quite ineffective. This shows that medicine still has a lot of learning to do.

4)      Death is the Only Time when All is Lost

I wanted to end on a positive note, much like the book attempted to do (despite there not being a lot of improvement in Clive Wearing). The writer speaks about the case of a man who had amnesia (though not as severe as Clive’s), and who managed to continue living his life. Of course, many measures had to be implemented for his life to go smoothly, but to me, this didn’t matter. What amazed me was that this man was still able to carry on with his daily activities, despite carrying with him the hardship of a disability. What this teaches, or reminds us, is that if one truly wants something, they can get it.

That’s about it for today. Let me know your thoughts on this book, or on the lessons derived from it. I must admit I loved it, and I find it a very valuable read.

/Larisa