It was my friend Zoë who introduced me to the idea of a Commonplace Book. Consequently, I can lay the blame for this strange collection on her, even though she has no idea she did it.
On her blog, there's a link to many other blogs, and one of these is called A Commonplace Blog. A definition of the original Commonplace Book is given in this blog.
To me, it's a very appealing idea. What it means is that you collect thoughts, ideas, sayings, or bits and pieces from other sources that strike you as interesting or relevant to your life. In the days of pen and ink, they used to write down these things in a book that resembled a diary. It reminds me of Sei Shonagon's the Pillow Book.
When I read articles or books, I make my own notes of selected pieces from these sources. It's easy to do when I'm on the Kindle reader, because I can simply command it to make a note of whatever it is that interested me.
This is as close to a Commonplace Book as I get. It's not quite faithful to the original idea – but it's mine.
I thought I might make a blog posting here of selections from things I read in the last few weeks. I have several files of these from past months, and I probably should go through some of the earlier ones as well, but to keep it simple, here are just a few selections from my latest reading. I hope you enjoy at least some of them.
The History of Mr. Polly (H. G. Wells, 1866-1946)
[In which Mr Polly, portly, middle-aged drapery shop-owner, attempts to engage in fisticuffs with the equally portly, middle-aged proprietor of the neighbouring shop.]
There on the pavement these inexpert children of a pacific age, untrained in arms and uninured to violence, abandoned themselves to amateurish and absurd efforts to hurt and injure one another — of which the most palpable consequences were dusty backs, ruffled hair and torn and twisted collars.
[In which Polly muses with his friend, the Fat Lady, of the Potwell Inn.
He tried again. “One seems to start in life,” he said, “expecting something. And it doesn't happen. And it doesn’t matter. One starts with ideas that things are good and things are bad — and it hasn’t much relation to what is good and what is bad. I’ve always been the skeptaceous sort, and it’s always seemed rot to me to pretend we know good from evil. It’s just what I’ve never done. No Adam’s apple stuck in my throat, ma’am. I don’t own to it.”
I am convinced that almost all great men who, because of their accomplishments, are recognized as leaders even of small groups share the same ideals. But they have little influence on the course of political events. It would almost appear that the very domain of human activity most crucial to the fate of nations is inescapably in the hands of wholly irresponsible political rulers.
Political leaders or governments owe their power either to the use of force or to their election by the masses. They cannot be regarded as representative of the superior moral or intellectual elements in a nation. In our time, the intellectual elite does not exercise any direct influence on the history of the world;...
... Chaplin’s iconic speech from The Great Dictator, proclaiming that “we want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery.”
Why docs don’t do death? (MD James Salwitz)
Doctors get the clear message from medical schools that they do not have permission to “give up.”
Neglected in teaching, death is a humiliating failure, and doctors learn none of the skills and attitudes to help patients in the last days of life.
Because of our society’s global phobia and lack of intimate experience with death, families may have little personal understanding of end of life events and therefore unrealistic expectations for cure.
Physicians fail to understand that end of life care is a core part of medicine and that all their patients really want is honesty, symptom control, and the reassurance that the doctor will not desert them.
Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome)
[This story is about the perils of nineteenth-century self-diagnosis by indiscriminately reading about medical matters, as do people these days on the internet.]
So I went straight up and saw him [his doctor], and he said: “Well, what’s the matter with you?” I said: “I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling you what is the matter with me. Life is brief, and you might pass away before I had finished. But I will tell you what is not the matter with me. I have not got housemaid’s knee. Why I have not got housemaid’s knee, I cannot tell you; but the fact remains that I have not got it. Everything else, however, I have got.” And I told him how I came to discover it all.
Then he opened me and looked down me, and clutched hold of my wrist, and then he hit me over the chest when I wasn’t expecting it — a cowardly thing to do, I call it — and immediately afterwards butted me with the side of his head.
After that, he sat down and wrote out a prescription, and folded it up and gave it me, and I put it in my pocket and went out. I did not open it. I took it to the nearest chemist’s, and handed it in. The man read it, and then handed it back. He said he didn’t keep it. I said: “You are a chemist?” He said: “I am a chemist. If I was a co-operative stores and family hotel combined, I might be able to oblige you. Being only a chemist hampers me.”
I read the prescription. It ran: “1 lb. beefsteak, with 1 pt. bitter beer every 6 hours. 1 ten-mile walk every morning. 1 bed at 11 sharp every night. And don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t understand.” I followed the directions, with the happy result—speaking for myself —that my life was preserved, and is still going on.
Magical thinking about death [David Myers]
We think too much of death and not nearly enough of dying. There is a reason for that. Dying is a mental discipline, which entails many hours of training in (among other things) the renunciation of fantasies that death will be anything other than it is—the cessation of consciousness—and the bitter facing up to the reality of that fact. Those who prefer daydreams of impossible release from what awaits them will leave themselves (and those they love) tragically unprepared for the conclusive Bustle, which is “almost consequence.”Now this last one I originally had in, then I took it out, and now I've decided to put it back in. It was a book of high interest to me. Alexander was in a coma for seven days from what he claimed was a condition that medical science said was impossible to return in anything but a vegetative state.
I became skeptical when some of the claims made about the state of his consciousness or what he claimed was totally beyond consciousness were not relating to mystical experience on a level I understand. This may be my failing but it is something central to my philosophy of life.
His knowledge of brain function makes sense, but the relationship of his personal experience with the science became more and more extreme and highly disputed by many of his peers.
In my opinion, he was hallucinating. If so, to me it's an interesting exercise in turning hallucination into something people long to believe. The bits I recorded were more on the medical side. It may seem a strange little collection.
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife (Dr. Eben Alexander)
...the brain is the machine that produces consciousness in the first place. When the machine breaks down, consciousness stops.
I was encountering the reality of a world of consciousness that existed completely free of the limitations of my physical brain.
My experience showed me that the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness, that human experience continues beyond the grave.
E. coli are also highly promiscuous. They can trade genes with other bacterial species through a process called bacterial conjugation, which allows an E. coli cell to rapidly pick up new traits (such as resistance to a new antibiotic) when needed. This basic recipe for success has kept E. coli on the planet since the earliest days of unicellular life.
Further tests revealed that the bacteria living in the man’s large intestine had acquired the KPC gene by direct plasmid transfer from his resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae infection. In other words, his body had provided the laboratory for the creation of a species of bacteria that, if it got into the general population, might rival the Black Death, a plague that killed off half of Europe in the fourteenth century.