Friday, March 30, 2012


"...the death of a dream"

Yesterday, I wrote a letter that was long overdue, say by a few weeks. It had rattled in my mind for that duration of time. Should I or should I not? What would be the implication of the letter? How would the receiver see it? What would be his primary reaction? Would he or she think about the content? Would he spend time mulling it over about the issues addressed in the letter? What would be his final interpretation? How would he react to it?  These and all sort of arcane thoughts had plagued my mind. It was an adventure into a mine-field, every step a tortuous end or a crippling one. Every moment of that delay, a harrowing detail. And every thought emanating from such a delay, led to a built-up scaffolding of a tall skyscraper of infinite height without a concrete foundation.

And today, I received the reply. The time for such questioning as posed in my letter had long since passed. Huh? What?

Since 1564, up until today and probably, as long as there are readers of Shakespeare on this planet, Hamlet’s soliloquy is and will be considered the greatest of all. The essence of “to be or not to be” lies not in the beautiful caricature of the human mind, but the dilemma of the human decision-making. The torture of a indecision is reflected in the last few lines of this beautiful prose:
“…and lose the name of action.”

So is over thinking a sine qua non to inaction? 

Is it the death of all process? 

Is it the death of all dreams?

Think about it, for a minute.

If the wheel had not been invented, would we be sitting in a Chevy with the radio blaring the Bohemian Rhapsody? If the propellor had not been contemplated or even if thought of, but never put into action because of safety factors would we have flight? If the jets engine was considered unsafe because of the combustive nature of fuel, air in a contained environment next to the passenger-humans, would we have traveled to space, the moon and beyond. Would we have a Hubble Telescope spinning in space to peer into the 13.7 billion years old Big Bang?

In medicine, from direct transfusion between two individuals in the midst of wars resulting in the knowledge of incompatibility secondary to immune challenges, to the value of organ transplants is a single thought and direct action. From an artificial Aortic patch boosters to the artificial ventricular assist devices to keep a human alive for a cardiac transplant, from an ocular implant to a sensory implant in the occipital part of the brain to view the world, all such progresses have been behind huge mountains of impediments. Yet they happened, because someone said, “to be..”

You dream of a rocket ship with plasma driven drives, or regenerating hearts or kidneys on the scaffolding of inlaid tissue, or manipulating the genetic structure to calm the waters of a survivability gulf between naturally acquired mis-sense of information on the DNA, to a humanly corrected version of the same. These are the qualities of human endeavors. Not all is thought through in philosophical debate ad infinitum. Sometime, somewhere, there is a moment where the questions that arise will be answered better with time through trial and error then just by contemplation. If we are to consecrate our humanity at finding flaws through the arduous process of nitpicking, then inaction is the most viable answer to all questions.

I remember a very intelligent young patient, once during a consultation bringing forth reams of paper, gathered via internet and libraries, about his disease and hashed objections to each issue he set forth to consider. In the end he left with the same mindset that he had arrived with. Six months later, was back asking for another opinion. He had wandered from person to person, place to place interacting and accumulating information but had yet to pull the lever. Unfortunately for him he never could be convinced to pursue any path, not the standard of care nor the experimental trials. This was the “With this regard, their current turns awry and lose the name of action.”

We humans have circadian rhythms that enable us to perform at peak capacity. The converse side to that is during the ebb, everything slows down and productivity grinds to a halt. It is during those non-productive periods that we do a lot of “mind-wandering” you know the sort that makes you think random thoughts and you jump from one to another in no specific pattern. You know, you’ve had them before and enjoy dwelling in them every now and then. They are a part of the human day-dreaming. The problem with this mind-wandering, day-dreaming scenario is, that it clutters the brain and drives the brain to use its Insula-(r) and prefrontal cortical activity for no specific reason. It is like idling the car at high RPM and letting it run out of fuel. So a more linear but comprehensive approach might be better, for instance listening to music and contemplating on the rhythm of your breathing or better yet call it “meditating.” This relieves the Insula and the Pre-frontal cortex of the brain to relax and get freshened up for the real job of constructive productivity. Too much of everything is akin to too little of anything. So, saying “focus” and "focusing" are two separate and distinct processes, the latter is infinitely better. Trying to coerce the performance by force is counterproductive because the cerebellum part of the brain that controls complex motor activity is not within the purview of voluntary control. So, allow it to happen naturally by clearing the mind. It is a pity to see a boat adrift in the water.

This reminds me on a golf course one day, while I was having a whale of a time accumulating pars, somewhere on the thirteenth fairway, my golfing partner suggested that, I point my left foot outwards a little more for better power. The result, my friends, was dramatic and immediate, what followed were double and triple bogeys for those remaining six holes. Needless to say, I learnt a lesson that the brain analysis came into play and the automaton activity of muscle memory went out to pasture (was lost). Too much attention is the same as too little. Paralysis through Analysis!

A Scientific American article in 2009 reported “…In a 2008 study psychologist Sian L. Beilock of the University of Chicago divided novice and skilled golfers into two groups and instructed them to perform a series of golf putts. The researchers encouraged members of the first group to take their time, whereas they exhorted members of the second group to swing as quick­ly as they could. Novice golfers performed less accurately when speed was emphasized, but skilled golfers showed exactly the opposite pattern: they performed best when told to execute quickly and faltered when advised to take their time.”

 So dream! The more dreams you have the better it is. But to fulfill your dreams of the sleep, you must have an open book, a clear mind for the day.


Ives-Deliperi, V. L. et al. (2011). The neural substrates of mindfulness: An fMRI investigation. Social Neuroscience.

Mareike B. Wieth & Rose T. Zacks (2011): Time of day effects on problem solving: When the non-optimal is optimal, Thinking & Reasoning, 17, 387-401

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