Writing

The more I do it, the more I intensely dislike “scientific writing”, especially writing for health care. My whole communications course at the moment is emphasizing that you cannot include your own opinion—you must simply state facts in as objective a way as possible.

But what really are facts? Anyone can be as observant as they want, but isn’t it inevitable that even the observation itself will be coloured by many personal factors—how they want to see the situation, how they are used to observing similar situations, how they think the situation will turn out? That’s why it’s important to be very cautious in reading or interpreting the news, and also why writing objectively, in the truest sense of the word, is not only almost impossible—what comes from it is lifeless. Humans are not robots.

It almost seems as though communication in health care effectively attempts to squash all creative thinking and ideas that do not exclusively, directly relate to specific data.

Dostoevsky and Cervantes

I think almost everyone is familiar with the feeling, after learning something new, of immediately finding that thing everywhere randomly. For example, when I look up an unfamiliar word, it seems that after that I find it popping up everywhere. Calling it pure coincidence or chance is a rather lazy way to explain this phenomenon; more likely it’s that once you learn of a new word or concept, you’re more likely to notice it among the millions of other words or concepts that you see every day.

Something similar happened to me over the holidays—I finished reading Don Quixote, and began a novel I had wanted to read for a long time: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation). As unlikely as it sounds, Dostoevsky draws parallels between Prince Myshkin, the main character of The Idiot, and Don Quixote. I didn’t notice the likeness until one of the other characters puts a letter from the prince in one of her thick books, and later laughs when she finds that she put it in her copy of Don Quixote. In any case, I was quite happy to have only just read Don Quixote, and from then on Prince Myshkin seemed to resemble him more and more.

I also find it interesting that while Cervantes tries to poke fun at Don Quixote for being an idealist who is out of touch with reality, Dostoevsky makes us think that such people are, perhaps, more in sync with the intangible realities of existence and personality than everyone else. While many people throughout the novel call Prince Myshkin an idiot, the reader sees his thought life and realizes that he is not an idiot at all. In other words, Cervantes himself (unless he was trying to hint that Don Quixote’s idealism was really how we all should be, though perhaps to a lesser extent) would be numbered among the people who would call Prince Myshkin an idiot.

I would love to find out exactly what Dostoevsky thought of Don Quixote and Cervantes.

Descartes and Knowledge

I was re-reading Descartes’ Discourse on Method and came across a passage that describes exactly what I’m experiencing at the moment:

“I have been nourished by books since I was a child, and because I was convinced that, by using them, one could acquire a clear and certain knowledge of everything that is useful for life, I had a great desire to study them. But as soon as I had concluded the course of studies at the end of which one is usually admitted to the ranks of the learned, I changed my mind completely. For I found myself so overcome by so many doubts and errors that I seemed to have gained nothing from studying, apart from becoming more conscious of my ignorance.”

The more I learn about the world and how people think, and the many and varied reasons behind everything that happens, the more I realize that I really know very little, and that everything in the world is so much more complex than I have always thought it to be, and than it is often purported to be.

Undoubtedly, God is in control of everything that happens; but how He works is a mystery, and will always be a mystery. As Job discovered, God’s methods of working are incredibly intricate, and are impossible for mere humans to fathom.

MBTI and Cognitive Functions

Lately, I’ve become interested in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the theory behind which was begun by Carl Jung and was modified further by others, such as Isabel Briggs-Myers and her mother. A while ago, I took an MBTI test (16personalities.com) and it churned out ISTJ for me, which I thought fit me pretty well (and it it still does).

Simply determining your type by the dichotomies (Introversion vs. Extroversion, Sensing vs. iNtuition, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Perceiving vs. Judging), however, comes out with a result that is not necessarily accurate (though it was in my case).

A more accurate, original (Jungian) method of personality typing is to go by cognitive functions. Everyone has a dominant function that they use the most, and then auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior functions that they use, but less naturally than their dominant function.

For example, I as ISTJ would use introverted sensing as my dominant function (which means that I process new information by comparing it to the past and previous experience). My auxiliary function is extraverted thinking, which affects how I come across to others—I tend to base my decisions on logic and facts rather than feelings. Introverted feeling is my tertiary function, which means that I read my own emotions much more easily than others’ (but I do neither of these very well, due to its third place on the “function stack” for me). And lastly, my inferior function (which goes mostly unused) is extraverted intuition, which is generally associated with creative thinking and randomness.

The function stacks are different for all 16 personality types, which makes typing people so very interesting—to see how all the functions line up. Of course it’s very blurred because everyone is different, but recognizing certain features in others helps to understand them better.

A little update

I have almost finished a month of college (pre-health science) now! It’s fun; I’m doing basic sciences and math, English, and sociology. The sciences are the best part, and sociology is the worst part. Sociology seems to be very concerned with theory (while I often love theory, sociological theory is not interesting to me), and while we do get into a little bit of history, we don’t get to read the works of actual sociologists; we just have to memorize terms and dates and write a couple of papers that are much too short. Right now I’m working on one about the social effects of legalizing and decriminalizing cannabis. It’s supposed to be only one page long! How can I address such a multifaceted issue in only one page? The professor is somewhat Marxist. I think that his favourite “99% proletariat against 1% bourgeoisie” point of view is much too simplistic; people and society in general is much more complex and cannot always be explained in terms of class conflict.

On a better note, I’m reading Brave New World (when I have time) and enjoying it very much. It’s interesting to see how much our own Western culture is headed in that direction!

Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn was a musical genius. Although he died at the age of 38, he left behind a gigantic repertoire of works he composed—orchestral, chamber and piano music, choral works, and even a few operas, which he began composing in his childhood and early teenage years. Most people remember him for these.

But he did another immensely important thing—he revived interest in the Baroque music of the past. At that time, Bach’s works had fallen into unpopularity and were largely unknown by most people. Mendelssohn founded a  society for studying Bach’s choral music, and people began to listen to the music of Baroque composers again.

Needless to say, as a lover of Baroque music, I’m very thankful for Mendelssohn’s contribution to its revival in popularity, as well as for his own remarkable compositions.

Tolstoy and Gogol

Every so often, it happens that I research a topic (for fun), or look up a definition of a more-or-less uncommonly used word, and then very soon it pops up somewhere I least expect it to. It’s an amazing feeling.

But this evening something even better happened. I was reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (and thoroughly enjoying it). One of the principal characters, Konstantin Levin, says in conversation something that immediately rang a bell in my head: “Never mind, never mind, silence!”

I first assumed that I must have read this phrase earlier in the same book; but my familiarity with it was too strong—I had heard it many times, somewhere else. There was a footnote, and when I looked it up, I found out that Levin was quoting (consciously or not) from Nikolai Gogol’s The Diary of a Madman, in which the phrase is repeated constantly! I had read that story just prior to starting Anna Karenina.

Konstantin Levin was already my favourite character, but now that I know he has read Gogol, I appreciate him better than ever. Tolstoy’s characters are so realistic and understandable—it seems as though you’ve known them a year, when in reality you only met them a week ago.

Piano

I love to play the piano, and just finished my Grade 8 exam, which I had been preparing for over the course of nearly a year. It’s a great relief to have finished, and now I can learn and play what I want to, rather than the required repertoire!

In my Grade 8 repertoire I played a song by Vasily Kalinnikov, a late-19th-century Russian composer. Its title was Chanson Triste, which means “A sad song”. I loved it—it was sad (and I prefer sad songs to happy ones), but had high points and low points and was very expressive. I looked up other music by Kalinnikov (using the handy IMSLP website) and found a pretty song called Русское Интермеццо, Russian Intermezzo. It’s also a little sad, so I like it very much. I’m looking forward to learning it, along with other songs that I like.

Milton and Paradise Lost

I just finished reading Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (incidentally, the last book I’m reading for high school English), and they are brilliant. Milton is such an amazing writer. In the midst of all his dramatisation, though, he took many artistic liberties; some of them are necessary and others seem to be simply unorthodox.

In Paradise Lost, Eve is alone when the serpent tempts her, and after eating the fruit (also by herself), she goes to Adam with it. So far, so good. But when Adam sees that she’s eaten the fruit, he says “And mee with thee hath ruin’d, for with thee / Certain my resolution is to Die; / How can I live without thee, how forego / Thy sweet Converse and Love so dearly join’d / To live again in these wild Woods forlorn?”

In other words, Milton’s Adam eats the fruit not because he stops believing God, or begins to believe the serpent’s words, but because he is upset about his wife’s deed and impending death. He is so in love with her that he wants to deliberately disobey God (remember, according to Milton he’s not deceived) simply so that he can share Eve’s fate.

This is incredibly implausible. Even though 1 Timothy 2:14 seems to indicate that Adam wasn’t deceived, given the context and previous verse it is reasonable to conclude that Paul is merely saying that Eve was deceived first (and commentators Matthew Henry and John Calvin both take this view). But Milton sets up the whole storyline, both before and after, to make the reader blame Eve more than Adam. I think this may have affected many Christians throughout history; many have thought, and some still think, that all women have an intrinsically beguiling nature simply by virtue of being women.

That was the topic of my final English essay, which I just finished. Although I love most of Paradise Lost, a few aspects of Milton’s storyline simply don’t stand up to closer inspection.

Basilique Notre-Dame-de-Montréal

I was in Montréal about three weeks ago and I went inside the Notre Dame basilica. It was beautiful (though the number of images everywhere was quite distracting). I found out that the architect was Protestant but he really wanted to be buried there, so right before his death he converted to Catholicism and was buried in the cathedral (this was before it became a basilica)!

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