Tag Archives: Meymandi Fellow

On the Importance of Social Science and Humanities on Education

“Monday Musings” for Monday February 17, 2014

Volume IV, No. 7/163

240px-The_Parthenon_in_Athens

Thinking Things Through

Dearth/Death of Humanities

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD DLFAPA*

Each year there are gazillions of meetings, assemblies, conventions, congresses and seminars held across the globe. Some of these meetings are celebratory in nature, some are to advance science, some are to anoint politicians and some are to promote a common cause.  In the past few years, we have had our own share. We have been able to welcome and celebrate the arrival of a prominent scientist, the first “Meymandi Fellow” at the National Humanities Center, and to learn from his scientific knowledge and benefit from his vast reservoir of wisdom. Dr. Edward O. Wilson is a Harvard Professor of entomology, father of sociobiology and twice Pulitzer Prize winner for his many books, among them, the famed volume, Consilience.

The National Humanities Center continues to enrich our society with predictable excellence and resourcefulness. Among other NHC Meymandi Fellows have been luminaries such as Dr. Helen Vendler, Harvard Professor of English and Poetry, and Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse, President of Rockefeller University, Sir Patrick Bateson, Emeritus Professor of Ethology at Cambridge University and President of the Zoological Society of London.

But as a good editor/writer should, I have sifted through the proceedings of hundreds of conferences held in the last couple of years, and here is a summary of the most consequential and impressive ones.The first meeting of stellar proportion was the Golden Anniversary of the day James Watson and Francis Crick walked into the Eagle Pub in Cambridge, England, and announced that they had discovered “the secret of life”. The discovery has been dubbed “the most important scientific breakthrough in the annals of Neolithic man.” This meeting was held in Berkeley, California. Among the participants was, of course, Nobel Laureate James Watson. Other luminaries were from the world of biochemistry, physiology, and biology. For three days they talked, they bantered, they gave brilliant papers on what the marriage of genomics, proteomics and textonics will bring to the 21st century and how knowledge will be democratized through textonics. Children of backwoods nations as far away as Timbuktu will have access to information stored in the Library of Congress, the Louvre, the Met, and libraries of the pre-eminent universities of the world. 

Other papers examined the marvelous achievements of advanced technology and science triggered by the Russian satellite Sputnik. The late ‘50s, all of the 60’s and 70’s accelerated studies of mathematics, science and physics, paving the way to the July 20, 1969 US landing on the moon.

All the while the humanities were placed on the backburner. Many thoughtful analysts believe the cause of widespread terrorism and horrendous losses such as 9/11 are the direct cause of that neglect. However, in the course of those three days, what was lacking, sadly, and to the chagrin of many, was an almost total absence of a discourse or discussion on how to transform the enormous amount of available information and technology into wisdom. If we ever catch up with this part of the missing link, perhaps we will have fewer 9/11 phenomena and threats of global terrorism.

At the conclusion of the meeting, it was agreed that input from humanities, such as philosophy, history, psychology, epistemology and linguistics, dance and poetry is needed to achieve the elevated goal of nirvana of wisdom, peace and love. The recent report on the humanities and social sciences, “The Heart of the Matter” commissioned by Congress and produced by a committee formed by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-chaired by our own Duke President Richard Brodhead, witnesses the conspicuous decline, if not absence, of the humanities in our academic lives. The Commission report has attracted a good deal of attention.

Another remarkable meeting in the past two years was a “Meeting of the Minds.” It was indeed a gathering of some of the world’s best thinkers. It was held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to discuss how scientists, people of religion, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Buddhists, Sufis and transcendentalists, can collaborate to understand the nature of reality. The meeting focused on neuroscience and psychology. The participants were The Dalai Lama, Arthur Zajonc, professor of physics at Amherst, Georges Dreyfus, Chair, Department of religion at Williams College; Ajahn Amaro, co-abbot, Abjayagiri Monastery, Ca.; Ann Harrington, Professor, history of Science, Harvard University; Stephen Kosslynn, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; Eric Lander, Director, Whitehead Institute, Center for Genome Research, MIT; Jonathan Cohen, Professor of Psychology, Princeton University and Jerome Kagon, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University,  just to name a few.

The meetings were most stimulating and informative. The participants were indeed thinking through how to transform knowledge and information into wisdom leading humankind to peace. I was impressed by all the presenters. The common pathway to reaching peace, happiness and the ultimate form of unconditional acceptance, labeled by the Sufi as “love”, may be achieved through introspection, self-analysis and altruism. The Dalai Lama said, “Buddhism is a 2500-year-old tradition of analyzing and investigating the inner-world, the reality of the mind, in order to transform one’s emotions and reach happiness. It seeks to understand the causal dynamics of emotions. It uses intelligence to the maximum for the purpose of developing compassion.”

Looking back at the history of human conflicts as seen in ancient Punic, Peloponnesian, Thermopile and Trojan wars, the crusades, and the more recent wars, including the conflict in Iraq, we should learn that victory does not come with guns and swords but with understanding, compassion, self-denial and love. For example, it would be helpful to send ambassadors and representatives who know the language and the culture of their host countries. This would be a good start on the glorious highway of humility, love and respect for others. 

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*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.

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On a Contemporary Martin Luther

Monday Musings” for Monday November 18, 2013

Volume III, No. 45/139

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Paul Tillich, A Contemporary Martin Luther

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Our inbox runeth over. Incoming mail about Martin Luther’s birthday brought us unprecedented response requesting more on Luther. In compliance, we will schedule another “MM” on the occasion of Luther’s mortal anniversary, the week of February 18. Today I thought we ought to recognize some contemporary “Martin Luthers,” my favorite among them is Paul Tillich. But let me share a sample of the incoming mail:  A distinguished colleague and faithful reader of this space writes:  “Concerning grace–suspicious New Yorker, at breakfast in Southern Pines, pointing to white stuff on plate: what’s that! I didn’t order it & I won’t pay for it!Waitress: them’s grits–you don’t order ’em, you don’t pay for them. They’s like grace: they just comes.” I don’t believe Saint Paul or the formidable scholar of grace, Saint Augustine of Hippo, can parallel this…. Now to Paul Tillich.

Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was Harvard Professor of Systematic Theology. It must be noted that there are hundreds of professors at Harvard, but only five Harvard Professors. These coveted positions have been maintained throughout Harvard’s nearly 400 years of existence. Paul Tillich had the rank of Harvard Professor of Systematic Theology in Harvard Divinity School. His tenure as one of the five began in 1955. Tillich came to US at the invitation of Reinhold Niebuhr in 1947.  He had to learn English. Not only did he learn the language–he wrote nearly a million words in English. His many highly acclaimed books, many of them bestsellers in the world of academia, are published in English. He taught in New York Theological Seminary and Columbia University before joining Harvard.

A personal note:  I came to US as a student in 1955.  In my early days of college pre-med, while learning English, I was exposed to some of the Tillich’s writings. I especially enjoyed reading his book, History of Culture and Religion. It was an intoxicating work, emphasizing the universality of “personhood.” Three years later, after entering the George Washington University School of Medicine, I learned that Prof Tillich was to conduct a Saturday seminar on Systematic Theology. I wrote to him and to the Harvard University administration to get permission to audit the course. The privilege was granted. I further obtained permission to tape the lectures. The tape recorder in those days was the size of a suitcase. Bulky and unyielding, I lugged it to the Logan Airport in Boston every Saturday for 19 weeks. I attentively listened and taped the lectures. The Professor had a thick German accent, often unintelligible. But his thinking was clear and unencumbered.  Even though he wrote many books including his three volume Systematic Theology in English, I still believe he really never learned to think, speak and/or dream in English. I believe his English writings were translated German which attest to a brilliance and disciplined mind.

Paul’s career at Harvard ended in 1962 when he moved to the University of Chicago. His last volumes were written in Chicago. He died in 1965. The outstanding feature of his teachings and writings may be summarized as his attempt to correlate/connect and integrate. He called his theology “Method of Correlation”, espousing theology with existentialism, psychology psychological analysis sand biology. Tillich was a huge advocate of ontology and the state of being. He “connected” and “correlated” the philosophical positions of the four work horses of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), John Paul Sarte (1889-1976) , and Albert Camu (1913-1960); the art of the impressionist painters such as Monet, Manet and Pissarro; theologians of the Reformation era, such as Martin Luther (1483-1550) and his contemporary Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) known as the father of Christian Humanism (not to be mistaken with secular humanism); as well as pre-Christian philosophers and lovers of wisdom such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. He correlated and connected all these exciting elements to achieve his ultimate goal of illuminating the landscape of theology. Paul Tillich was a great observer, connector and co-relater of human and Godly phenomena.

Finally, Tillich’s lifelong pursuit of philosophy and theology reveals that the central question of every philosophical inquiry always comes back to the question of being, ontology, or what it means to be, to exist, and to be a finite human. Here is a statement in his introduction to systematic theology:

“Theology formulated the questions and implied in human existence and formulate the answers implied in divine self manifesting ideas with the guidance in human existence. This is the circle which drives man to a point where questions and answers are not separated. The Christian message provides the answers to the questions implied in human existence. These answers are contained in the revelatory events on which Christianity is based and are taken by systematic theology from the sources, through the medium, under the norm. Their content cannot be derived from questions that would come from an analysis of human existence. They are ‘spoken’ to human existence from beyond it, in a sense. Otherwise, they would not be answers, for the question is human existence itself.”

Studying Paul Tillich leaves us with more questions than answers, a state that sharpens curiosity and encourages one to be a more eager seeker. I believe Paul Tillich would have made a superb candidate for Meymandi Fellowship at the National Humanities Center.

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*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.

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Remembering Mrs. Thatcher

Monday Musings for April 15, 2013

Volume III 14/117

Mourning Maggie

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

 (Editor’s Note: The passing of Lady Thatcher was a blow.  Condolences to all. In observance of the occasion, we are re-running “Monday Musings” below for your reading enjoyment, and the link for your viewing pleasure. 

 Link on WRAL:

http://www.wral.com/news/local/video/12318911/#/vid12318911

Vol. 2 / No.20

Thatcher

From left to right, Dr. P. Geoffrey Feiss, Lady Margaret Thatcher, Dr. Assad Meymandi.

Lunch with Maggie

I recently saw the movie Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. We are not big movie fans, may be go to one or two a year, and often if the subject is disappointing, I leave after the 10-15 minutes but not this movie. Iron Lady is a movie depicting the biography of Lady Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of England (1979-1990). It was on her watch, and that of the late President Ronald Reagan, that the Soviet Union crumbled. Throughout the movie, I had a hard time keeping my composure.  It was hard not to cry.  I was weeping for Lady Thatcher, I was weeping for losing her warm, but elegant friendship, I was weeping for losing the promise and possibility of her accepting the invitation of the National Humanities Center to become a Distinguished Meymandi Fellow and give lectures to the RTP audiences. But above all I was weeping for the world losing a remarkable woman, another Lady/Empress Matilda Maude (1102-1167) who pre-wrote Magna Carta (King John, 1215).  The history of our relationship goes back to many years ago.  Below is a reprinted account of our initial luncheon meeting, first published in Wake County Physician magazine.

Seven other people, my wife and I were privileged to lunch with Lady Margaret Thatcher in the Plumeri House of William and Mary College. Our host, P. Geoffery Feiss, Provost of the College, seated me at the left side of the Iron Lady, because that is her “good ear”. The lunch and conversation went on at a leisurely pace. With the after-lunch-picture-taking-and book-signing ceremonies, the Lady stayed around for a good two and a half hours. Nonetheless the entire experience was an extravagant moment, but too short and too fleeting…Her trip was a hush-hush affair.  She was the mystery guest at the commencement ceremonies of the previous evening. The principle speaker was Ms. Halaby (Queen Noor of Jordan).But with the Lady Thatcher’s sudden appearance in the academic procession; the crowd erupted into a spontaneous ovation.  The Lady gave a fifteen minute unrehearsed speech.

Conversation around the round dining room table started with prosaic platitudes, and gradually escalated into an intense exchange of ideas. Of course, most of us listened while the Iron Lady spoke of the Falkland War, her friendship with Ronnie (President Reagan) and Nancy. We also spoke of the former (now the late) NC Senator Jesse Helms and Gorbachev.”The gentleman was devastated when his wife Raisa died”, the former Prime Minister of England informed us.

Thatcher sees no use for the United Nations. She abhors indecisiveness, appeasement and unprincipled diplomacy. She insisted that in our global collective and diffuse culture, individuals do make a difference. Our host invited me to tell the Lady my opinion on this thesis. I politely and dutifully suggested that the Lord, in order to provide Neolithic man with role models, sent Zarathustra to bring us enlightenment; Abraham to give us faith; Moses to demonstrate the possibilities of discipline; Christ to teach us love; Prophet Mohammad, peace be with him, to show us structure and system approach to problem solving; Mozart, to give us the gift of music; Thomas Jefferson and the framers of the US Constitution, the fresh concept of a working, living, breathing Republic where the rule of law is supreme. And then I added the name of Margaret Thatcher to this pantheon of deities who showed us how conservatism, private enterprise, and individual initiative elevate the majesty of human achievement. The lady seemed to enjoy the discourse. She indicated that she is willing to come to NC at a future date, perhaps as a Meymandi Distinguished Fellow at the National Humanities Center.

On a personal note, Lady Thatcher showed a bit of disdain for sensation seeking journalists who emphasize her “grocer” father, but neglect to say that the gentleman was a civic leader, chairman of the town library board, a civic leader and prominent in the cultural life of his hometown. It was her father who inculcated the love of books and reading in the future Prime Minister of England. Thatcher went on to study Chemistry at Oxford, because of the possibility of a better job. For a while a student she actually made and sold ice cream… I asked the Lady what force has been most influential in her rise to prominence. Without hesitation, she named Winston Churchill, and went on to extol the Gentleman’s virtues including his military career and becoming Prime Minister when he was well into his sixties.

The Lady gave me two autographed books which occupy a prominent place in my private library. And in my heart.

State Anniversaries for the month of May:  Wisconsin, State number 30, joined the Union on May 11, 1848.  Motto: “Forward“.  South Carolina, original colony number 8, May 23, 1788.  Motto: “While I breathe, I hope.”  Rhode Island, original colony number 13 (the last one), May 29, 1790, Motto: “Hope“.

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*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.

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