Thursday, January 28, 2010

Me? Are you sure?

It is bad form to speak ill of the dead. Similarly, it is not correct to speak about a severely handicapped person in less than glowing terms. My qualities were similarly hyperbolized so much that often I was not sure if people were speaking about me or about somebody else who I seemed to know quite well. Perhaps the propensity to exaggerate my qualities was amplified by the fact that I had the IIMA tag. A sort of halo effect seemed to be at play and I seemed to be doubleplusgood at everything. The tendency to further embellish my qualities in every mutation was no doubt aided by the misinterpretation of my blinks.

To my embarrassment, I was sometimes referred to as a genius. As Lawrence Durrell said, 'Like all young men, I started out to be a Genius, but mercifully laughter intervened. ' Of course, I should not have been surprised because now-a-days every Tom, Dick and Suresh is called a genius of some sort or the other. I had many super brains studying with me. Many times I used to sit silently and look in awe as they solved complicated problems casually over breakfast and wondered how I will ever be able to compete with these...geniuses. In THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE, Watson says of Sherlock Holmes:
I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbours, but I was always oppressed with a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings with Sherlock Holmes. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had seen what he had seen, and yet from his words it was evident that he saw clearly not only what had happened but what was about to happen, while to me the whole business was still confused and grotesque.
I had many such Watson moments. No wonder I breathed a sigh of relief when I got through IIMA without any major goof-ups.

Once one guy came to my room and complimented me on the colours that I had chosen for the walls of my room. He said that I had chosen these colours because I had lived abroad for many years and had seen how houses were painted there. This was news to me because I have never been abroad. I don't know from where he got the story. I did not see anybody correcting it. So, I don't know how it will come back in the future.

I was once called a Mathemagician. It was the first time I had heard this word. I had thought I was reasonably competent in maths but no magician of any sort. (That reminds me of this TED talk. That was the second time I heard of the word Mathemagician.)

Jaya, her Dad and Sujit had gone out once when some visitors came home who I had never met before. When they came to my room, I was reading some popular science book. Looking at the book, one person said that I had been a scientist. The nurse did not understand what he said and nodded. My mother-in-law was in the kitchen preparing tea. Everyone looked at me as if I had just arrived from Mars while I sat quietly not knowing what to do. By the time my mother-in-law returned, the conversation had moved on to some other topic so she did not know that her son-in-law had become a scientist and the error remained uncorrected.So some people somewhere think that I was a SCIENTIST.

I will tell you when I become a neurosurgeon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Children Don’t Have Strokes?

I came across an article in the NYT which you may want to read- Children Don’t Have Strokes? Just Ask Jared .

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Narcissism of small differences

In a post on AWAD there was a description of religion:
The word religion derives from Latin ligare (to tie or to bind, as in 'ligament'), but it best serves as a tool to divide people. My religion is better than yours. My god true, yours false. What, we have the same religion? No problem, my sect is better than yours.
The last line reminded me of a term that I had come across a few years ago- narcissism of small differences. I saw a great joke about it on the web:
I was walking across a bridge one sunny day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: 'Stop. Don't do it.'
'Why shouldn't I?' he asked.
'Well, there's so much to live for!'
'Like what?'
'Are you religious?'
He said: 'Yes.'
I said. 'Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?'
'Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?''
'Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?'
'Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?'
'Baptist Church of God.'
'Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?'
'Reformed Baptist Church of God.'
'Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?'
He said: 'Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915.'
I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Social smile vs Spontaneous smile

I have great difficulty smiling politely but spontaneous laughter at a joke comes easily. This is true even in the situation I described in my last post. I had always wondered about this till I came across a passage in How the Mind Works:
Facial expressions are useful only if they are hard to fake. As a matter of fact, they are hard to fake. People don't really believe that the grinning flight attendant is happy to see them. That is because a social smile is formed with a different configuration of muscles from the genuine smile of pleasure. A social smile is executed by circuits in the cerebral cortex that are under voluntary control; a smile of pleasure is executed by circuits in the limbic system and other brain systems and is involuntary. Anger, fear, and sadness, too, recruit muscles that can't be controlled voluntarily, and the genuine expressions are hard to fake, though we can pantomime an approximation. Actors must simulate facial expressions for a living, but many cannot avoid a mannered look. Some great actors, like Laurence Olivier, are highly coordinated athletes who have doggedly learned to control every muscle. Others learn method acting, inspired by Konstantin Stanislavsky, in which actors make themselves feel an emotion by remembering or imagining a charged experience, and the expression pops on the face reflexively.
Probably this is what has happened: the stroke has affected my voluntary muscles making it difficult to produce a polite smile but since my involuntary muscles are working fine, spontaneous laughter is easily produced. I have used this Stanislavsky method for years without knowing why I had to do so. Often when I had to smile politely, I tried to think of some joke which will make me laugh and everyone will think I laughed because of what they had said.

You see the problem with this post, don't you? Now everyone who comes to meet me after reading this post will have a nagging doubt in his mind - Is this guy's laughter genuine or is he indulging in a bit of method acting? H'm, I can see some uncomfortable meetings ahead.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The strange case of the face and the brain

Sometimes my face refuses to follow orders from my brain. This usually happens after some exertion, like a bout of cough or prolonged laughter. Visitors may say that I look as if I might cry, leaving me bewildered. I can feel that my expression is not quite what I want it to be but I can't do anything about it. It is as if the messenger between the brain and the face is AWOL.

The impression that I am about to cry is accentuated by the fact that my natsultook'ah is not always a tear-free zone. Perhaps my stroke has weakened the muscles controlling my tear glands so my eyes tear up after some exertion like coughing or laughter. The nurse has to wipe my eyes often because I find it difficult to read due to the blur caused by the tears. Sometimes a new physiotherapist, on noticing the tears, will stop the exercise thinking that some movement was painful. The nurse will assure him that the tears have nothing to do with the movements.

In Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, Matt Ridley describes the p53 molecule:
Let us take a closer look at the TP53 gene. It is 1,179 'letters' long, and encodes the recipe for a simple protein, p53, that is normally rapidly digested by other enzymes so that it has a half-life of only twenty minutes. In this state, p53 is inactive. But upon receipt of a signal, production of the protein increases rapidly and destruction of it almost ceases. Exactly what that signal is remains shrouded in mystery and confusion, but damage to DNA is part of it. Bits of broken DNA seem somehow to alert p53. Like a criminal task force or SWAT team, the molecule scrambles to action stations. What happens next is that p53 takes charge of the whole cell, like one of those characters played by Tommy Lee Jones or Harvey Keitel who arrives at the scene of an incident and says something like: 'FBI: we'll take over from here.'
In the scenario I described above, my face plays the role of Tommy Lee Jones and takes over the operations while my brain looks on helplessly like the local police chief. The only way I can rectify this is by sitting quietly for sometime. This conflict between the face and the brain reminds me of how a colleague used to describe his cross eyed boss- 'looking London seeing Tokyo'.