Tag Archives: humanist

On Mozart

“Monday Musings” for December 6, 2015

Volume V. No. 50/258

Wolfgang20Amadeus20Mozart20PNG

Mortal Anniversary of Mozart: The Mystery of Mozart’s Genius

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

 

Saturday marked the mortal anniversary of Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most enigmatic individuals of the 18th century. He was born on January 27, 1756. Before his death on December 5, 1791, he was in poor health. Throughout his short life, he had smallpox, tonsillitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, typhoid fever, rheumatism, gum disease, and possible cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis all caused by excessive use of alcohol and possible sexual indiscretions. Toward the end of his life, he had poor hygiene, most likely because of poverty, and had to move a smaller apartment with limited accommodations and facilities.

Mozart was enigmatic because of ineptness, inelegant personal conduct, and his lack of social grace. Yet in his operas, he demonstrates deep understanding of human nature. He takes us through a most complex circuitous labyrinth of psychological wonders that is humanly impossible. As I listen to his operas over and over again, I keep asking myself how did he know so much? For example, his opera King of Crete, Idomeneo, set in 1200 BC, is an incredible psychological study of human possibilities, frailties, feelings and complex psychodynamics of behavior. Medical literature do refer to Mozart’s scatologia/lalia and coprophilia as symptoms of Tourette Syndrome, a neurologic disorder the victims of which experience uncontrollable urge to make foul noises and use curse words. Modern medicine has pinpointed the biochemical etiology of the disease, namely excess dopamine concentration in the basal ganglia of the brain. This condition is neuroendocrinologically the opposite of Parkinson’s disease where there is a paucity of Dopamine in the basal ganglia.

Dispensing with superlatives and avoiding the use of adjectival palates of hero-worshiping, nonetheless, an observer is made to confess that Mozart was undoubtedly a genius. Shakespeare, Goethe, Ferdowsi, Avicenna, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), there are only a handful of them…Classical music, especially Mozart’s music, like classical books, such as Virgil’s Aeneid, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Plato’s Republic, Dante’s Oeuvre, have a theme, are written in noble language and are lasting across generations. All of Mozart’s 626 pieces are abundantly endowed with these basic qualities. They have a theme, they are written in noble and elegant musical notes and are transgenerational.

In his short life of 35 years, Mozart composed a known body of work, 626 pieces, of lasting elegance and complex musical intricacies, some of which are miraculous. Let’s take the summer 1788. How could anyone compose symphonies and operas in a hot summer, combating illness and mourning the death of his mother, in six short weeks, composing four master pieces of unequal elegance and sublimity? And, yet in the depth of despair and depression, he composed the glorious Jupiter Symphony in C Major K 551. It is beyond mortals. It took more than six weeks to sit down eight hours a day to just copy the music of the fabulous compositions in that hot summer of 1778 when Mozart’s was mourning the death of his mother, and processing his father’s lament and accusation that Mozart killed his mother, because of his ill behavior and leaving the nest. Reading Maynard Solomon’s biography of Mozart with focus on summer of 1778 leads one to believe in Mozart as a miracle…

There are literally billions of words written about Mozart, his life and music. In addition to Solomon’s book, I have found another respected musicologist and dramaturge, Joseph T. Kerman, Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of California, Berkeley, whose credible analysis of Mozart’s music is most enlightening. Kerman, too, has much to say about Mozart’s summer of 1788 and his final composition, Mozart’s Requiem K 626.

Readers of this space recall an essay on special children of God, we listed Mozart as follows: “Not four score and seven years before Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, but about ten thousand years ago, the age of Neolithic man, God set out to send man on the road to perfection. He sent the ancient Persian prophet, Zaratustra (Zoroaster), as early as 500 BC, to bring us the concept of good and evil which in modern day philosophy is known as epistemological dualism. The Sumerians brought us literacy and language.

The Egyptians taught us social order and government; the Persians, participatory democracy; the Greeks, city-state and citizen representation; the Babylonians gave us devotion and discipline; and Jesus came bringing us civility, hope andlove.1215 years later, the Anglo-Saxons brought us the Magna Carta. And in 1756 we were given Mozart through whom music flowed like water running through the fountains of Tivoli.”

Yes, in my view, Mozart, a flawed human was basically a divine prophet. With unparalleled beauty and sublimity, he was ordained to fulfill what Bach started with Clavier Book I and Book II. We also recall in the essay in this space on Thomas Jefferson and his fondness for music, how he arranged to meet Mozart. Jefferson had planned to ask Mozart to compose a piece in memory of Jefferson’s late beloved wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, very much like Bach’s commissioned pieces by the Goldberg familyThe Goldberg Variations. However, Jefferson was turned off by Mozart because of his “ineptness and lack of grace… The gentleman is socially uncouth and frivolous…” Jefferson said. Yet, Jefferson loved Mozart’s “heavenly music” and travelled long distances to listen to professional performances of Mozart’s music.

Yes, Mozart belongs to the circle of Gods in the distant cosmos of tomorrows…We are thankful for having Mozart, and today, with acute awareness of the gift of Mozart, we mourn his death, but enjoy celebrating his music.

dad_sig_pic

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

Leave a comment

Filed under The Writer

On Pope Francis

“Monday Musings” for Monday July 6, 2015

Volume V. No. 27/235

PopeFrancis

Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change: An Analysis

 By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA, ScD (Hon)*

 

In his most recent encyclical, Pope Francis is urging the world to act on climate change. A few reflections:

I have been reading Papal encyclical since I was a small boy. I used to get such a big thrill to get my copy of Pope Pius XII Encyclicals and his Urbi et Orbi on Christmas and Easter. Going to a French Jesuit school in Tehran accentuated my love for the Papal pronouncements, even though I must admit that half of the time I did not quite understand what I was reading. Nonetheless, I have continued to read with fascination and try to understand what the Popes, these men of power ensconced in seats of empyrean try to tell their flock, and for that matter to the world. Of the six succeeding Popes since Pius XII, and they are Saint John Paul XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, I have found The current Pope Francis to be most clear in identifying and focusing the human issues, such as poverty, income inequality and gender. I often compare the Popes and their writings to the Chairs of the American Federal Reserve System.  Some are as confusing and tortuously unintelligible as the utterances of the former Chairman Alan Greenspan, and some are as clear and lucid as Paul Volcker… and some like Bernanke, somewhere in the middle. Pope Francis is an exception. His language is simple; his pronouncements, credible and his rhetoric imbued with passion and commitment. By the way, I have not made up my mind about Janet Yellen! Pope Francis speaks in intelligible and easy to understand language. In his exchanges with the heads of states including Presidents Obama of US and Putin of Russia, his primary expressed concerns are peace, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio born December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina was elected Pope in early 2013 and took the name Pope Francis after Saint Francis of Assisi. In fewer than ten months he managed to place himself in the center stage of the world. As one Journalist put it “He placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, and the temptation of power…:”

I like Pope Francis. To me, his admirable humanity asymptotically approaches Godliness. I look forward to reading his future encyclicals and seasonal Urbi et Orbis and anything else he has to say or write.

The Pope’s latest encyclical deals with the issue of climate control. The encyclical is a book length treatise consisting of six chapters, and a footnote of some 75 references. In one chapter, the stunning title “Ecological Education and Spirituality” the Pope examines our individual responsibility and the moral imperative of caring for our home, the earth. This is the first time, ever, I have seen the word “ecology” uttered by a Pope.

In this work, Laudato Si’ (praise be to you, my Lord) Pope Francis does not take sides on the controversy of climate change. He does not assert the correctness of “science” vs. “non-science” approach or assertion about climate change. He merely examines the issues and makes recommendations for being a more concerned and aware citizen of the world. To keep our home, the earth, clean and tidy. Care for the health of our common home, our earth, just like a father teaching his children the virtues of cleanliness. In his May 24, 2015 encyclical, Pope Francis states that “We can see God reflected in all that exists. Our hearts are moved to praise the Lord for all his creatures and worship him in union with them.” The Pope is not only a church father, a theologian, but a philosopher. This is a rare combination. In 2000 years history of the church we have had fewer than what you can count on one hand, people who qualified for the empyrean seat of “philosopher and Saint”. They are Saint Anthony (born early first Century; died middle of first century), Saint Augustine of Hippo (Nov 13, 354-August 28, 430 AD), Saint Ambrose (340-April 4, 397 AD), and Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225- March 7, 1274). Maybe you can add Pope Gregory (540-March 12, 604) to the list. I taste the delicious flavor of that rare combination—philosopher and saint–in the makings of Pope Francis. It is exciting!

In assessing Pope Francis’ spiritual place in the world, frankly, our Pope fits in the Sufi Khaneghah, as a Kalender, as a Jew in a synagogue, as a Buddhist in a Temple, as a Hindu reading and preaching Bhagavad Gita, and as a global evangelist re-inserting God in the lives of seven billion (soon to be eight billion) inhabitants of the earth. I am personally impressed that the Pope is evangelical and not evangelistic. In the true sense of the word, Pope Francis is a catholic (with small ‘c’)—a man of universe, a citizen of the world, a faithful and comfortable child of God who while exuding joy, conducts a consequential life.

Critic of his holiness’ Encyclical:

In Pope Francis’ May 24, 2015, “Laudato Si’, urging the world to act on climate change, what I find missing is a lack of emphasis on prevention. I fully agree that we should feed the hungry, clothes the naked and shelter the homeless. Those are the primary responsibilities of every child of God. However, in his encyclical, the Pope does not address the issues of how to prevent hunger, nakedness and homelessness. Very few suggestions, if any, are made on the Church’s directions and responsibilities for prevention, family planning, and birth control. No mention of investing in education to prevent generating irresponsible sex machines who reproduce, bring children to the world and abandon them.

dad_sig_pic

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

Leave a comment

Filed under The Writer

On Magna Carta

“Monday Musings” for Monday June 15, 2015

Volume V, No. 24/232

magna carta

Happy Birthday, Magna Carta !

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA, ScD (Hon)*

 

Today is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, Latin for “Great Charter.” Next time you are in London, go by the British Library, near Euston Station, climb the stairs. On the left you enter a pavilion full of old books, ancient manuscripts, including a Guttenberg Bible, etc. On the right, you will find a good size room set aside to display the magnificent British document, the Magna Carta, signed by King John of Lackland dated December 28, 1215. The document was actually written in Runnymede on June 15, 1215.

The room exhibiting Magna Carta is wired with the latest technology to give the viewers all they want to know about Magna Carta. But I have found the display, describing King Lackland’s Magna Carta, much lacking (pun intended), especially in the intellectual and political history of the precious document. What is presented in the British Library is very useful, but short on depth and epistemic understanding of events leading to the birth of the document. Here are some reflections and a brief critical analysis:

Faithful readers of this space recall the essay on Queen Matilda Maude of England (February 7, 1102- to September 10, 1167), who laid the cornerstone of Anglo-Saxon freedom and the governance of the rule of Law. Matilda was like our 20th century Susan B. Anthony (February 15, 1820 to March 13, 1906), who championed women suffrage by laying the work for the 19th amendment which was signed in 1919 by President Wilson. What a feat, 92 years of freedom and voting right for the American women. Going back to Matilda Maude and her important work to sow the seeds of Magna Carta in Britain’s mental space: Matilda and her younger brother were the only two legitimate children of King Henry I who had altogether sired 23 children. She reigned for a  brief period of time and was never crowned, thus not listed in the British monarchic line of succession. Instead, her male cousin Stephens of Blois was the monarch 1135-1154 and is listed in the history books. Omitting the work and contribution of Matilda Maude form history of Magna Carta is a major historic and intellectual oversight.

Another significant omission is the impact of assassination of Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, on December 29, 1170. As one notices, he was assassinated one day short of 45 years before the signing of Magna Carta. Archbishop Becket was assassinated by four knights from the court of King of England Henry II. They were dispatched to “rid England from a bothersome and intruding priest”. With the brutal killing of Beckett, the public became sensitized to the atrocities of Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their three sons (very much like Libya’s Gaddafi and his sons) and a ground swell of revolt against kingship began to slowly brew over the next 45 years.  Indeed the excesses of Kings of England over a century brought on the emergence of Magna Carta, the principle message of which was to severely restrict the powers of the throne.

King John Lackland who signed Magna Carta was not a benevolent and humanitarian king like King Cyrus the Great of Persia and Hammurabi of Babylon and other famous altruists of yore. The 12 years old battle of Bouvines definitely restored French power under King Phillip II Augustus bringing the Angevin-Flanders conflict to an end.  But the battle of Bouvines in 1214, enfeebled King John considerably. By 1214, King John was a worn out fellow bereft of energy and friends. The British Lords and aristocracy viewed him as a usurper of land with hedonistic tendencies similar to those Henry III. They detected King John’s weakness and vulnerability by moving rapidly and writing a document consisting of 61 clauses, they named it Magna Carta. It restricted the liberties of the king and moved England toward a constitutional monarchy. Magna Carta is essentially an unimpressive document mostly dealing with laws of commerce and cannons of trade. It does not hold a candle to US Constitution, our Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence But some of its clauses are brilliant examples of human rights advocacy. Consider Article 39. It states “No freeman shall be arrested or imprisoned or deprived of his freehold or outlawed or banished or in any way ruined, nor will we take or order action against him, except by the lawful judgment of his equals and according to the law of the land.” Doesn’t it sound like something written by John Locke or Thomas Jefferson?   In America, we are blessed to have the intellectual depth, wisdom, and knowledge of 2500 years history by a group of devoted patriots, America’s founding fathers who gave us our Republic. They skillfully wove concepts from Declaration of Human Rights by Persia’s King Cyrus the Great, dubbed Messiah in the Bible (Isaiah 41), Code of Hammurabi, and the renaissance philosophers, especially Pico Della Mirandola’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in the tapestry of our beloved nation.

Personally, I love America. Unlike many of my misguided colleagues who are ashamed of America, I am proud of America. I love the cacophony and gridlock in US Congress with 8% approval rating. I love the liberty and freedom to disagree, argue, and have robust and serious conversation without fear of being arrested and jailed. I love America’s devotion and commitment to supremacy of the rule of law and not those of a ruler, a Shah, an Ayatollah or a some two-bit dictator-President-for-Life.  And I am happy to pay my taxes to ensure the survival of our freedom, but not happy to see my taxes wasted, and moneys misspent on programs that encourage delinquent and antisocial behavior. Behavior like irresponsibly fathering many children by many women, and not being a daddy to them. Behavior like setting one’s highest ambition in life to get on public welfare. Behavior like coming to America, living here for many years, enjoying the fruits of the liberty, freedom and equality America offers, yet not learning the English language, and not assuming any civic pride and patriotic responsibility….

dad_sig_pic

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

Leave a comment

Filed under The Writer

On Commencement

“Monday Musings” for Monday May 4, 2015

Volume V. No. 18/226

RAL6011-Peace-College-hl

Commencement Address

William Peace University

Sunday May 2, 2015

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

 

(Editor’s Note: Below is the Commencement address the writer delivered to the 2015 graduating class of William Peace University, Raleigh, NC)

Mr. Chairman, members of the Board of Trustees, Madam President, honored guests, members of the faculty, fellow students, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I take the podium’s prerogative to ask for a moment of silence honoring the memory of my good friend, the late Trent Ragland, Jr., a former trustee of this beloved institution….  Thank you

So, you graduated from college. Congratulations! You have been through a lot of graduations. You graduated from pre-kindergarten. You graduated from kindergarten, then from elementary school, middle school, high school, and now from college. But I submit that you have graduated more times than you know. You and I were born as helpless babies who could not survive without the nurturing, care and love of our parents, especially our mothers. When a newborn is hungry (for the science majors, that is driven by low blood sugar, below 70 mg percent) the baby screams. “Mama is coming,” and she brings the bottle or the breast. This goes on day and night until something miraculous–and I choose the word miraculous advisedly—it miraculously happens around age week to week and week and half. Let me explain this miracle: when the baby gets hungry and screams and while mother is saying “Mama is coming,” the baby equates the voice of the mother to anticipated gratification and stops screaming momentarily. But if Mama falls asleep, of course the baby resumes screaming. At the ripe old age of 10 days, the anlage or the infrastructure of ego functions are laid. Yes, we all graduated from this stage of extreme narcissism and self- centeredness at the age of 10 days. It is a miracle.

Then, you graduated from infancy, learning to sit, to stand, to crawl, to walk, to run, and to separate and individuate, running away from mama only to return and hide behind her skirt. Games like peak-a-boo reinforce this phase. Then you graduated from childhood. You later graduated from latency phase of growth and development, age seven to twelve, and entered adolescence. You went through adolescence and negotiated the vicissitudes of teen years and graduated into adulthood. And now with the support and continuous love and sacrifice of your parents you are graduating from college as a well- balanced, educated, mature person.

The purpose of life is to turn that narcissistic bundle, the newborn baby, into the altruistic and loving adults you all are.  Let’s briefly examine the attributes of an altruistic and loving adult. This person for the most part of waking hour is aware that he or she is a child of God. Not the child of a mayor, the child of a governor, the child of a king, the child of a President, a Shah, an Emperor, or an Ayatollah, we are children of God.  Do you know of a loftier position in all creation?  Being aware of this gift given to us at birth is the essence of Pauline theology of Grace and Christian love.

This person for the most part of waking hours has good feelings, happy feelings, and as result has good thoughts and does good things. Doing good things is vastly different from being a do-gooder. Doing a good deed is altruistic. Being a do-gooder may be narcissistic and self- serving.

This person is a joyful person. The etymology of the word joy is the Sanskrit word (and Farsi) JOOYE, meaning a running brook. Let me explain: a camel driver crossing the desert in a 100 degree heat in the shade for several days, reaches an oasis with trees, grass and a running brook of clear cold water. He waters his camels, then takes a fistful of this cold and refreshing water and drinks it and splashes some on his face. The feelings at that moment generated by JOOYE, the running brook, is where JOY comes from. Joy, like a running brook, is constant. It is refreshing. It is life giving…  this person is not just happy, but JOYFUL. Happiness is temporary, evanescent, and artificial, while joy is constant, refreshing and life giving… be joyful.

This person makes a pledge, a resolve to be a growing person. What is growth? To me, growth consists of three parts: to know more today than I did yesterday, to do fewer bad things today than I did yesterday, and to love more today than I did yesterday. Knowing more every day is a demanding and disciplined task. At my age, every night I go to bed, I take an inventory of what I know. I mean sheer knowledge. If I have NOT learned more today than I did yesterday, I get out of the bed and go read my medical, science and humanities journals. You and I must be aware of the responsibility of enriching our cognitive reservoir. Yes, we must know more today than we did yesterday. The sheer act of learning and internalizing knowledge is pure joy. We all do bad things. Good people do bad things. We must take an inventory that we did fewer bad things today than yesterday. This is what Saint Paul theology calls power of redemption. And to be a growing person, we must be more loving today than we were yesterday.

Now, what is love? We love our Aunt Molly, Cousin Bert; we love apple pie and the beach, and BBQ. Love is one of the most confusing words in English lexicon. English language, young, accessible and dynamic as it is, is very short on affective words, feeling words, words that describe feelings. There are dozens of Arabic words whose equivalent in English is one word “love”. It is frustrating to use the same four letter word for the rich reservoir of feelings we experience in our lives. So let me resort to Greek.

In Greek, there are three words for love: Eros, the love involving sex, reproduction and carnal fusing necessary for procreation. Philia, the love we have for our relatives, brothers, cousins, and extended family. But the love I want to focus upon is the third Greek word, Agape, which is the love God has for all of us, and we must learn to have it for all humanity. Let’s focus on Agape, the kind of love that God has for us. It has three parts: a loving person is not abusive to one’s self, a loving person does not use and abuse alcohol, does not smoke, does not use drugs, and does not get fat. The epidemic of obesity in America causes diabetes, cardiovascular disease, back pain, bringing a health care bill approaching 20% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Obesity is a very serious form of self-abuse which is not loving. Obesity is a moral issue. Second leg of Agape is not to be abusive to one’s fellow man, regardless of what you do for a living. As a physician, don’t abuse your patients by making them wait for you. For garbage collectors, don’t strew the stuff all over the street, be neat, do not abuse others- including the US government by cheating on taxes. And lastly, the third leg, do not let anyone else abuse you. Learn to say “NO” and mean it. Do not let friends talk you into doing abusive things. Love, like a tripod, has to have all three legs to stand up.

Now, I want to introduce you to three role models who have shown us how to be loving and lovable. These three brilliant stars of the intellectual constellation are Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Saint Augustine was a pagan. He was a brilliant student throughout his entire life, but as he grew up he did a lot of bad things, like stealing from his parents to buy toys and literally purchase acceptance and friendship of his peers, that is to say, to be popular. He used to steal apples from his neighbor’s yard, not because he was hungry, but because it was fun to do. He lied to his mother repeatedly. As he grew up, he sired an illegitimate son by a concubine. He converted into Christianity at age 31 and after a couple of years became a Bishop of the city of Hippo. All this is recorded in his 13 book “Confessions”. The first nine books are autobiographical and the last four exegetical, an analysis of the book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament. Augustine wrote more than five million words.

The second role model is the Jewish physician, Rabbi, philosopher and theologian, Moses Maimonides of Cordoba, Rambam, (1135-1204).  He, too, wrote more than five million words. And the third person is the Arab economist, theologian and music advocate, Ibn Khaldoun (1332-1406). Surprisingly, he, too, wrote more than five million words. Islam prohibited music and the arts for fear of inviting and spreading lust into society.  Ibn Khaldoun was very much interested in bringing music back to Islam. He knew as an exception singing the passages of the Holy Quran (Bible of the Muslims) called Talavat  is acceptable. So he petitioned the ruling Caliph to start a competition singing the text of Quran, just like our Oscars. The competition began in 1352 when he was 20 and continues to this day. All Muslim nations send delegations of singers to these annual competitions. This has played in war, in peace, in famine and in plenty, since 1352. As an aside, another piece of music that has continuously played since its opening night, Christmas Eve 1741, is Handel’s Messiah. On the opening night King George II was in the audience. When the chorale sang the Alleluia Chorus, the king was so moved that he stood up giving an ovation. This is why to this day we, too, stand up when Alleluia Chorus is sung. Like Talavat,Messiah has played continuously in war and peace, in famine and plenty since its debut in 1741.

So, let’s see what these gifted people, the residents of the Pantheon of superior intellect, spirituality and faith tell us. These three people wrote more than 16 million words in their life time. I do not pretend that I have read every word of what they have written, but I have read a good bit of their writings. To give you a summary in the form of a gift that I hope you take home with you, repeat it in your mind, and if you would, like a favorite song, hum it until it becomes a part of you.

Here is what they said.  Here is what these three most accomplished and brilliant children of God said: the pathway to salvation and grace is “to know what is good inside of you, namely brain, this wondrous two and half pounds mass of billions of neurons, that is nerve cells, and trillions of synapses where these neurons chemically inter-connect,  love, compassion, loyalty, faith, intellect and self-awareness; and what is good outside of you, namely friends, connectedness, family, flowers, dance, poetry, music and beauty of nature, and to be thankful for them ‘by giving something back.’  This is the beginning of altruism, philanthropy LOVE OF MANKIND, and joy. Remember, it all started when you were only 10 days old…

Let me repeat and pass onto you the gift these three people have given to us so that their gift may become an integral part of our mentation, cognition, perception and lives: To know what is good inside of you, namely brain and intellect, love, compassion, loyalty, faith, intellect and self-awareness; and what is good outside of you, namely friends, connectedness, family, flowers, dance, poetry, music and beauty of nature, and be thankful for them by giving something back…”

Yes, you and I are privileged to be children of not a mayor, not a king, not a governor, not a President, not a Shah or Ayatollah…You and I are children of God- all seven billion of us occupy that lofty status.

Yes, we have many good things inside of us, many good things outside of us. And we will be constantly aware of them and be thankful for them by giving something back…

And now I close by recalling a passage from one of the most beloved poets of the 20th century, Khalil Gibran: “Empty and dark shall I raise my lantern, and the Guardian of the night shall fill it with oil, and He shall light it also…”  May your lanterns be always full, and may they be lighted also.

God Bless America.

graduation

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Writer

On the Science of Memory

“Monday Musings” for Monday April 27, 2015

Volume V. No. 17/225

The-48th-anniversary-of-JFKs-assassination_4_1

Science Series. Part II: PTSD

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

 

In her memoirs, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wrote of her flashbacks of the November 22, 1963 assassination of her late husband. She was suffering from PTSD. The official description of PTSD, or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, published by Veterans Affair is “a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However, some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.

People with PTSD experience three different kinds of symptoms. The first set of symptoms involves reliving the trauma in some way such as becoming upset when confronted with a traumatic reminder or thinking about the trauma when you are trying to do something else. The second set of symptoms involves either staying away from places or people that remind you of the trauma, isolating from other people, or feeling numb. The third set of symptoms includes things such as feeling on guard, irritable, or startling “easily.”

It is estimated that 8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 (5.2 million people) have PTSD during the course of a given year. This represents a small portion of those who have experienced at least one traumatic event. The traumatic events most often associated with PTSD for men are rape, combat exposure, childhood neglect, and childhood physical abuse. The most traumatic events for women are rape, sexual molestation, physical attack, being threatened with a weapon, and childhood physical abuse.

What does science have to offer?

In my daily reading diet I value several publications which include ScienceNatureNew England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and Lancet.  Lately, I have been impressed by another journal PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS). It is a publication that translates experimental laboratory data into clinical practice. It is one thing to accomplish or make discoveries in the laboratory with animals. But it may take years and years before the results are applied in clinical practice to humans. In that sense PLOS is unique. It is a truly translational journal. Its purpose is to speed up the process of applying laboratory discoveries into bedside patient care and clinical practice.

In its August 27, 2014 issue PLOS published a study by Marc J. Kaufman, PhD, Director of the McLean Hospital Translational Imaging Laboratory and colleague Edward G. Meloni, PhD, which is of seminal value and lasting benefit. In this study the two scientists discovered that rat exposure to Xenon, a noble (inert) gas blocks traumatic memories. It becomes very useful to block bad memories in individuals suffering from PTSD. The chemistry is fancy but simple. Memories are stored and transmitted in specific parts of the brain called amygdala, hippocampus and frontal cortex. They are transported by many neurotransmitters in the brain from the memory centers to other parts of the brain. The most prevalent neurotransmitter charged with transporting memory is N-Methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA). Just a word about what is a neurotransmitter– a neurotransmitter is like a bus or a car that carries messages from one nerve cell (neuron) to other parts of the brain. The key to interfering with transmission of memory is to interrupt the neuronic flow mediated by NMDA. In essence, take a chemical scalpel and cut off or tie off the flow of NMDA. Well, Kaufman and Meloni hit the pay dirt. They discovered Xenon is the chemical that accomplishes the task and perform the surgical procedure in rats. Here is an abstract of the publication.

Xenon (Xe) is a noble (inert) gas. These gases belong in group O of the periodic chart.  The group includes radon, helium, neon, argon, and krypton. Xenon gas has been developed for use in people as an inhalational anesthetic and in diagnostic imaging procedures. Xenon inhibits receptors involved in learning and memory and affect those parts of the brain, namely amygdala and hippocampus, responsible for memory formation and information storage. When Xenon is administered after memory of a trauma is formed (they call it fear memory), the memory disappears after the Xenon is administered. Male rats were used to develop this elegant animal model of PTSD they call fear-conditioning. The rats were trained to be afraid of environmental clues that were paired with brief foot shock. The researcher found that a single exposure to the Xenon gas blocked memory formation in the brain, dramatically and persistently reducing fear responses up to two weeks. The researchers are planning to apply the work to humans. The research holds much promise for those millions suffering from PTSD.

dad_sig_pic

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Writer

On the Science of Memory

“Monday Musings”  for Monday April 20, 2015

Volume V.  No. 16/224
brain_1_

The Science Series: Memory

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Part I:  The nature of Memory

Faithful readers of this space recall our review of the book “Searching for Memory” by Daniel Schacter, a UNC alumnus and now professor of psychology at Harvard. In that book with an outline of different types of memory, Schacter devoted a broad section to persistent memory which is the hallmark of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, recurring unpleasant memories. In this piece, after describing and discussing the phenomenology and architectonics of memory and its types, I will focus on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Schacter’s research explores the relation between conscious and unconscious forms of memory, the nature of memory distortions, how individuals use memory to imagine possible future events, enhancement of online learning, as well as the effects of aging on memory. In general, there are four large categories of memory which are always included in psychiatric evaluation and standard mental status examination. They are:

1)    Episodic memory: dealing with the patient’s ability to recount biographic data such as dates, places of significant events of life, marriage, birth of children, service in the Armed Forces, travels and jobs.

2)    Somatic memory: has to do with the functions of various parts of the brain, and the reaction of those brain structures to the cascade of neuronal hormones sweeping over them. Somatic memory is often affected by anxiety and depression.

3)    Procedural memory: how well the patient can repeat a series of numbers or objects forward and backward, immediately, or after a given time lapse, and how well the patient may recall a seven part story.

4)    Verbal fluency memory: testing a patient’s ability to generate words starting with a given letter, such as “O”. The number of such words generated in a given time, say one minute, and the quality of the words generated, reveal much about the patient’s memory and general fund of knowledge and vocabulary. For example, if a patient is asked to generate in one minute words starting with the letter ”O”, and he goes on like a machine giving words in alphabetic order such as “octave, octennial, octet, octillion, octillionth, October, octodecimo, octogenarian, octomerous, octoary, octoploid, octopod, octopus, octoroon, …” etc., you know that he excels in verbal fluency memory and is of superior intellect.

Schacter characterizes memory in a different way.  He calls these seven sins of memory “The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets”.

    • 1)  Transience–the decreasing accessibility of memory. Schacter cited as a somewhat facetious example former President Bill Clinton’s “convenient lapses of memory” during the Monica Lewinsky investigation. Clinton claimed in the hearings that he sometimes couldn’t remember what had happened the previous week.
    • 2)  Absent-mindedness–lapses of attention and forgetting to do things. Examples, said Schacter, are forgetting where you put your keys or glasses. He noted a particularly famous instance in which cellist Yo-Yo Ma forgot to retrieve his $2.5 million cello from the trunk of a New York City cab.
    • 3)  Blocking–temporary inaccessibility of stored information, such as tip-of-the-tongue syndrome. Schacter recounted the embarrassment of John Prescott, British deputy prime minister, when a reporter asked him how the government was paying for the expensive Millennium Dome. Prescott struggled to find the word “lottery,” trying “raffles” instead.
    • 4)  Suggestibility–incorporation of misinformation into memory due to leading questions, deception and other causes.
    • 5)  Bias— For example, research indicates that people currently displeased with a romantic relationship tend to have a disproportionately negative take on past states of the relationship.
    • 6)  Persistence–unwanted recollections that people can’t forget, such as the unrelenting, intrusive memories of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. They become a “tragic prisoner of memory,” and some eventually commit suicide.
    • 7)  Misattribution–attribution of memories to incorrect sources or believing that you have seen or heard something you haven’t.

Next week, Part II, we will discuss Post-traumatic Stress Disorder which has to do with sustained unwanted, obsessive intrusive memory.

dad_sig_pic

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Writer

On Being American

“Monday Musings” for Monday April 06, 2015

Volume V, No.14/222

Immigration-Stamp-Passport-658177

Love Affair with the English Language:

The Catechism of Being an American

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Today’s Musings are imbued with personal memories. They have to do with my choosing to come to America to study medicine, among other things. You see, I was not born an American. I chose to be an American. I entered the US on April 7, 1955, exactly 60 years ago this coming Thursday. In order to go to college and prepare for my medical education, I knew that I had to learn English rather quickly. In months between April and September when college opened, I memorized the 285,000 words of the 1955 edition of the Oxford Dictionary. Later, I expanded this knowledge and learned the etymology of practically every one of those words. Soon, I learned that Dr. Samuel Johnson exactly 200 years before my date of entry, namely April 7, 1755 had compiled the first English Dictionary. The very first edition of the Oxford Dictionary was compiled in 1857a la Dr. Johnson’s original compendium. I found a copy of that precious book through the Library of Congress. The edition contains 50,000 words. I enjoyed memorizing it, also, and forming an adoring relationship with the work of the late Dr. Johnson and through him with the English language. As an aside, the original Dr. Johnson’s 50,000 word dictionary was a part of the personal library of Thomas Jefferson, sold to US Government which became the germinating seed of our beloved US Library of Congress.

Three years were spent in college pre-medical education with majors in English and Chemistry. I entered medical school in 1958. In 1962, exactly seven years after coming to the US, I had earned Doctor of Medicine (MD).

My intense experience with the English language, which continues to this day, brought me close to much older and wiser linguists and University Professors. Among them was the late Samuel Hayakawa, the then Chancellor of San Francisco State University, who in 1977 became a US Senator from California. He used to get a kick out of my referring to him as the semi-somnolent septuagenarian, Senator Samuel Hayakawa. I wrote a letter to Hayakawa and to our own then Senator Jesse Helms who also knew something about my love for the English language, suggesting that they sponsor a bill to make English the official language of America. I even sent some money to defray expenses associated with the authorship of the bill, etc…I believe a bill was introduced but never passed.

In my communications with the mighty solons, instead of concentrating on the importance of the subject matter, Senator Helms enjoyed my ability to close my eyes and recite page after page of the Oxford Dictionary, “octave, octennial, octet, octillion, octillionth, October, octodecimo, octogenarian, octomerous, octoary, octoploid, octopod, octopus, octoroon, etc…I continue to believe that we need a law that makes English the official language of this nation. Enough of wasting money to print ballots in 56 languages–that is profligacy not progress…

With all my emotional and intellectual resources, I believe making English the official language of America is the most important issue in today’s political discourse.  It is an abomination and travesty that folks can come to America, live for as many as 30 years, and know not who Abraham Lincoln is, or the first thing about our flag, or the Founding Fathers of the US Constitution. I believe that to be an American, one must know the English language, know the bare essentials of our Constitution, our Republic, our Bill of Rights and the story of the birth of this nation and our Founding Fathers. What are the requirements to be an American? In my view, the catechism of being an American should consist of a good knowledge, if not verbatim memorization, of four documents. They are the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers and George Washington’s Farewell Address.

Please feel free to call on me and use me as a reference to further this, what I consider to be a holy cause.

God Bless America!

US-flag

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Writer

On MacCulloch’s “Christianity, The First 3000 Years”

“Monday Musings” for Monday March 30, 2015
Volume V. No. 13/221

bible

 A Special Book for Easter

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Christianity, The First 3000 Years
By Diarmaid MacCulloch
1184 pages
Viking
$40.00

Happy Easter and joyous reading!

Introduction

Faithful readers recall the review of Paul Johnson’s Book History of Christianity, 600 pages long, which we presented previously. In that book, the author has favoured Reformation, Martin Luther, and Protestantism. We now have another colossal work, Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 1184 pages, Christianity, The First 3,000 Years, in which one detects strong anti-Catholic bias.  However, undeniably, the book is a landmark in its field, astonishing in its range, compulsively readable, full of insight and points of interest for the general reader. It is not the over-illustrated coffee-table type book you might expect. The book is scholarly, dense, yet written in a readable and engaging style, but not as well written as Plato’s Republic or Edward Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. The impressive volume provides an excellent overview of Christianity. It is most appropriate reading for Easter.

The book begins with Judaism and Greek philosophy, giving the background to the remarkable historical phenomenology of Christendom.  It is prodigious, thrilling, and gives the reader a master class of a history without leaving one’s chair. MacCulloch is to be congratulated for his accessible handling of so much complex and difficult material. This is a book generous in detail and sound in judgment. It fills the gaps that heretofore existed in history of religion.

The content

The book consists of seven parts. The first part is about “A Millennium of Beginnings” (1000 BCE-100CE).  In this part the history of the Greek beginnings, Rome and the coming of the Roman Empire are discussed.

In the second part Israel (100-1000 CE) is examined. The second part, “One Church, One Faith, One Lord?”, examines the lives of Jesus, Paul, Gospel of John, the Book of Revelation, and the Jewish Revolt and the End of Jerusalem, and finally the Imperial Church, Constantine and Papacy.

In part three, “Vanishing Futures: East and South (451-1500)”, a close examination of Asia and Africa, church fathers such as Saint Augustine of Hippo, emergence of Islam in 620 CE, the Church of China, Mongols and Islam in Africa are scrutinized.

Part four, “The Unpredictable Rise of Rome” (300-1300), the making of Latin Christianity, Latin Christendom and “The church of All People” are painstakingly dissected.

Part five, “The Imperial Faith” (451-1800), the emergence of the new Rome, Orthodoxy and the Russian Church are examined.

Part six “Western Christianity Dismembered” (1300-1800), Martin Luther, Reformation, Papal monarchy, Wittenberg and Luther’s 95 questions/theses, and other reformers are discussed.

Part seven, “God in the Dock”, (1492-present), the author examines the Age of Enlightenment, Judaism, Skepticism, and Deism, crowning the section with a more precise dissection and deeper understanding of the roots of religion in America’s deep south. It also gives the reader an understanding of evangelical fervor and culture wars. The book has 67 illustrations, maps and paintings. The text is 1014 pages, the alphabetically arranged notes are 89 pages, and 49 pages of index, plus introduction, totaling 1185 pages

The title of the book, Christianity, the First Three Thousand Years, is fascinating if not intellectually challenging. We know that Christianity is only 2000 years old. Where does the author get 3000 years of Christianity? At first glance, the reader knows not whether the author is going to address 1000 BC to today or from the beginning of Christianity until one thousand years from now. Well, in this review I will attempt to answer that very question. The title refers to the former, one thousand years before Christ until today. The author skillfully documents that there was Christianity before Christ. There was a Socrates whom many historians and theologians including Soren Kierkegaard call Saint Socrates. As a matter of fact, Soren wrote his PhD thesis “On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates”.  Soren was a Socrates “groupie”!  We know that Socrates is exalted because of his reverential devotion to teaching enlightenment to his young students for which he was accused, tried and executed. MacCulloch’s “alternative” religious history, favoring the Catholic Church, holds that Christianity really began 3000 years ago. He asserts that before Christ there was a Jewish God, Yahweh, and a Greek God. There were prophets such as the Persian prophet Zarathustra and there were other prophets of the Old Testament Bible such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, etc., all of whom he calls precursors to Christianity which came on the scene 2000 years ago.

MacCulloch devotes considerable space to examine how Christianity has spread throughout the globe. He follows this spread, starting with the origins of the Hebrew Bible, tracing the three main religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, filling in often neglected accounts, including conversions and confrontations in Africa and Asia. He also explains the Crusades. Further, Mr. MacCulloch looks at the roots of the faith that galvanized America, charting the rise of the evangelical movement from its origins in Germany and England to the southern plains of America. In his book, MacCulloch explains that Christianity, one of the world’s great religions, has had an incalculable impact on human history. In a systematic manner, the author devotes several chapters to the main ideas and personalities of Christian history. As cited above, other chapters are given to the organization and spirituality of the church, and how Christianity has changed politics, sex, and human society. The author’s range of discussion spans from Palestine in the first century to India in the third; from Damascus to China in the seventh century; and from San Francisco to Korea in the twentieth.

Global History of Christianity

In my view this huge volume is the first truly global history of Christianity. This formidable compendium is the most comprehensive and up to date single volume work in English that presents the development of Christian history differently from any of its predecessors. The author shows how, after a semblance of unity in its earliest centuries, the Christian Church divided during the next 1400 years into three increasingly distanced parts, of which the western Church was by no means always the most important. He observes that at the end of the first eight centuries of Christian history, Baghdad might have seemed a more likely capital for worldwide Christianity than Rome. He concludes that all in all, Christianity is a landmark in the history of the faith that continues to shape the world.

It is comforting to have MacCulloch’s complementary history of the Christian Church.  MacDiarmid MacCulloch is a better writer than Paul Johnson, and his book is a lively and entertaining effort. On the downside, unfortunately, there is a strong anti-Catholic bias throughout his work which is even more disturbing than Johnson’s pro-Catholic stance. In fact, there are several passages in the book that almost give you the impression that MacCulloch must have been writing them with a permanent sneer on his face. In summary, if you are English and Protestant and believe that the best thing that happened to England was the Reformation, then you will probably love this book. If not, the author’s multiple biases and prejudices will probably grate on you. I consider the book a triumphantly executed achievement.

Strengths and weaknesses of this very impressive and comprehensive text are many. I have read Edward Gibbon’s “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” starting in my native tongue of Farsi then in French and finally in English, many times. Gibbon’s English syntax is delicious reminding the reader of lyrical poetic writings of Plato in Republic. Well, I found the use of language in this book to be dry and matter of fact. The syntactic enjoyment is lacking! On the other hand I learned more about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire by reading this book, than reading Gibbon’s work. Another weak or prejudicial point is that I found references are lacking or outright non-existent. The scholarly world knows that the father of Skepticism is Al-Ghazali, (1058-1111), the Persian poet, theologian and philosopher. Yet in Part seven of the book, discussion of Skepticism, there is no mention of either Al-Ghazali or Al-Farabi (870-950).

Finally, to the members of my family and close friends who received this review in advance, I wrote “If you want a delicious book, a feast of a book, a sumptuous and exciting intellectual and spiritual banquet for you and for your family, this book is it!—especially if you read it along with Paul Johnson’s book either back to back or simultaneously—“  Another attraction the book has for me is that it is about the Bible, a book which I truly enjoy and admire. In a recent interview for a national magazine, the interviewer’s last question was

“If you were forced to live on a deserted island and were allowed to bring one book, one selection of music, and one piece of artwork, what would they be?”

Book     That book has not been written. It would be a book containing the genomic display of all the biblical (Old and New Testaments) characters including Christ. If it is not written by the time I am assigned to a deserted island, I will take pen and paper to write it myself. Nobel Laureate, Craig Venter, whose book I have reviewed in this space, has given us a taste of that venture. Since I have not written that book and it is not yet available, I guess I will settle for the Bible, an amazingly comprehensive and complex book.  For example, there are 114 references to King Cyrus of Persia alone in the Bible (see Isaiah 45 where Cyrus the Great is called Messiah).

Music:   Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a piece of transcendent theology, musical genius, bringing the message of hope, promise, possibility and redemption to all humans. I have already devoted space to dissecting this truly miraculous opus magnum.

Art:  Pietà, by Michelangelo.

 dad_sig_pic

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Writer

On Moosa’s Ghazali

“Monday Musings” for Monday March 26, 2015

Volume V, No. 12/220

stack-of-books

Book Review

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Ghazali & The Poetics of Imaginations

by Ebrahim Moosa
Introduction: 32 pages, 289 pages of text, 28 pages of Notes
five pages of Glossary, 22 pages of Bibliography
and 12 pages of index
Publisher: UNC Press, 2005

The intoxicating intellectual celebration of Persian New Year—Norooz—lingers…We thought the review of a book related to that region of the world might soothe the thirst.

Of the eminent Persian poet and philosopher, Hamid Ghazali, we spoke in the pages of the October issue, WCP, with a promise for more. The reader will recall that we discussed Ghazali’s devotion to seeking, learning, and discovering through his devotion to faith on the one hand, and skepticism on the other, a true intellectual oxymoron. The issue of faith and skepticism, like many other confounding discourses, such as Saint Augustine of Hippo’s theory of predestination and will, present theological oxymoron, if not conundrums. We are keeping our promise by reviewing a most remarkable book about Al-Ghazali by Professor Ebrahim Moosa.

As a child, I recall my father encouraging us to read Al-Ghazali to strengthen the gift of doubt in his children.  In a recent conversation with a learned friend about education, after a lengthy discussion, we agreed that in order to encourage our college students to adopt a more vigorous orientation and grounding in critical thinking, they should read Al-Ghazali and Abu Nasr Farabi (872-950, known to West as Alfarabius), also a Persian polymath, scientist, poet, philosopher and theologian.

Who was AL-Ghazali

Abū Hāmid Muhammad ibn al-Ghazālī (1058-1111) was born and died in Tus, in the Khorasan province of Persia (modern day Iran). He was an Islamic theologian, jurist, philosopher, cosmologist, physician, psychologist and mystic of Persian origin, and remains one of the most celebrated scholars in the history of Sufi Islamic thought. He is considered a pioneer of the methods of doubt and skepticism, and in one of his major works, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, he changed the course of early Islamic philosophy, shifting it away from an Islamic metaphysics influenced by ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophy, and towards an Islamic philosophy based on cause-and-effect that were determined by God or intermediate angels, a theory now known as “occasionalism.”

After the 32 page comprehensive introduction, nine sections and a conclusion follow. The book is a symphonic rhapsody of the understanding of the “SELF.”  It is very difficult to translate the Arabic word NAFS or NAFS-AL-EMAREH into a meaningful English word. The word “SELF” may asymptotically approach the true meaning of NAFS but never reaches the complexity, richness and centricity of its Arabic equivalent. This book is all about “SELF”.

The first segment “Agnostics of the Self”, pushing skepticism to its limit, the author acknowledges that Ghazali’s ethics are at time inseparable from his poetics (imagination.)

In section 2 of this book, author Ebrahim Moosa devotes the discourse to “Narrativity of the Self”, a brilliant exegesis of Ghazali’s ability to wed poetic imagination and rational ideas. He forwards the argument that Ghazali was skeptical toward “and took a dim view of the confabulations promoted by specialist raconteurs and story-tellers.” As a physician, I am acutely aware that confabulation is a symptom of systemic poisoning of certain parts of the brain, namely Para-median grey that is destroyed by too much alcohol and cannabis. The pseudo-Sufis of Ghazali’s time, one may conclude, did indulge heavily in both.

Section 3, “Poetics of Memory and Writings”  reminded me of the book 11 of Saint Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions, devoted entirely to memory. It combines Plato’s views on writing, some explanation of the origin of the myth of writing, and explores authoritatively, the contribution of Neo-Platonist to understanding memory and writing.

The subsequent six sections on “Liminality and Exile”, ”Grammar of the Self” which includes “Grammar of Religion”, “Metaphysics of Belief—Faith in a Nutshell”, “Dilemma of Anathema of Heresy”, ”Hermeneutics of the Self” and “Technologies of the Self” complete the volume.

Who is Ebrahim Moosa?

Dr. Moosa is Associate Research Professor of religious studies and Director of The Center for the Study of Muslim Networks at Duke University. In my experience with languages, the humanities, and religious studies, I have found that these fields attract a disproportionate number of pretend-scholars, phonies, and pseudo-historians, if not downright charlatans. There are “experts” in Mowlana Masnavi Molavi Rumi who market distorted ideas and cleverly sell Rumi, while not knowing a word of Farsi, the language of Rumi. Edward Fitzgerald and Rubaiiat (quatrains) of Omar Khayyam is another example of clever marketing and exploitation of the most holy name in Sufism. For example, in one quatrain, where Khayyam speaks of a “14 year old beloved and a two year old wine….” he is not speaking of a lecherous pedophile who is a wine guzzler. Khayyam is speaking of Prophet Mohammad pbwh who at the age 40 (four ten or ‘fourteen’) was called upon by Angel Gabriel to found Islam, and it took two years (the fruit or the wine), the Holy Quoran, to be completed. These are but a few examples of the attraction of the fields of humanities and religious studies for the unwashed and uninitiated pseudo-scholars who exploit their subjects…

Professor Moosa is not a phony! He is an Arab, he knows the language, and has a deep understanding of the Arab and Persian cultures. His remarkable knowledge of the subject and brilliant exegesis of the life and writings of Al-Ghazali make reading of his book a sheer pleasure. For those who would like to gain a better understanding of the rich tapestry of Sufism, mysticism and witness the holy marriage of poetry, transcendent imagination, and disciplined facts of the past (not history), this book is gold mine.

dad_sig_pic

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Writer

On Relation to the Past

“Monday Musings” for Monday March 16, 2015

Volume V, No. 11/219

persepolis

Norooz, Persian (Iranian) New Year

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

NOROOZ

We are only four days away from the Iranian New Year, Norooz. Yes, March 20, the first day of spring, vernal equinox, is also the first day of the Persian New Year. Iranians will celebrate year 5776 on Friday. My sources in Tehran tell me that the 70 plus million Iranians were hoping that a nuclear treaty with America will materialize by March 21, and sanctions will be lifted, giving the Iranians the best New Year’s present they could get. But it appears that it will not happen. We will not have a treaty. Sanctions will not be lifted and people will not get their hoped-for new year present (in Farsi, Eidee).

But it does not matter. The Persian people are used to political vicissitudes and domestic extremes.  After all, the Persian civilization was there before Moses (1590 BC-1470 BC, lived to be 120 years) wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (scholarship not-withstanding)……

The Persians were there before the Code of Hammurabi, the Babylonian law code, was written in 1772 BC.

Persia, the Persian Empire and Zoroaster gave humanity monotheism, and issued the first declaration of human rights. Persia was there before the Old and the New Testaments….

Avesta, the Zoroastrian Bible, was there before the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation…. Monotheism was exhorted in Gatha and the Book of Gushtasb by Zarathustra before Moses wrote about Yahweh….

The Zoroastrian code of conduct: “good thought, Good word, and Good deed” was there long before the Ten Commandments…

Cyrus the Great of Persia liberated the Jews 500 years BC (Babylonian Captivity). There are dozens of references made to him and to the Persian Empire in the Bible. In Isaiah 45 Cyrus is named Messiah. Additional references may be found in Chronicles, Ezra, Daniels, Hezekiah, Maccabees 1, Maccabees 2, Maccabees 3, Maccabees 4, Maccabees 5, Esdras, Sirach, and Esther.

The world’s first charter of human rights, Cyrus Cylinder, housed in the British Museum, completed its American tour two years ago. It was exhibited in Arthur M Sackler Gallery (the late Dr. Sackler was a psychiatrist) and J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angles, before returning back to the British Museum. The writing is elegant cuneiform (Mikhi) script (link below).

America has a special historical link with Persia. When the founding fathers were contemplating the architectonics of the US Constitution and the relationship between the central/federal government and the 13 colonies, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin referred to the Persian Empire, and copied the form of Persian government, a Republic, where individual states are sovereign and autonomous. Also, Benjamin Franklin copied the ancient Persian postal service and adopted the Persian mail system (Peyk).

Persia’s contribution to music has been vast and innumerable. Let me illustrate one. No matter where in the world a symphony is playing when the concertmaster enters the symphony hall to tune the orchestra before the maestro takes over, it is the oboe, a pure Persian instrument, that gives the first note to guide the concertmaster to tune the orchestra. It is universal and with no exception, it is the Persian instrument, the oboe, that set the tune for the entire orchestra.

In more modern history, the late President Truman often in his speeches referred to Cyrus the Great and the Persian Empire’s achievements.

The Persian New Year, vernal equinox, when the day and night are equal and exactly 12 hours long, representing nature’s exquisite justice, was celebrated 5776 years ago, in the month of Edar Awal which followed the month of Shavat, as the Persian New Year or Norooz. Therefore, on March 21, vernal equinox, we celebrate Norooz, the first day of the Persian calendar 5776.

We are Persians; we are inheritors of such dazzling history and civilization….

And with humility and gratitude, we share this joyous occasion with all humanity.  Happy Norooz (New Day, New Year) to All.

cyrus_cylinder

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/2013/03/the-cyrus-cylinder-goes-on-view-at-the-sackler-gallery/?utm_source=smithsonianhistandarch&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=201303-hist

dad_sig_pic

*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Writer