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On Curiousity

“Monday Musings” for September 21, 2013

Volume III, No. 40/134



 by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

As “Monday Musings” approaches another year of life, we have added a celebratory note for its raison d’être. Of course, we have had a mission statement since the conception of the project. We also added a vision. But now we are adding the mood of celebration. The purpose of “Monday Musings” is to encourage curiosity and bridge the gap between basic sciences, the arts and the humanities. The more one broadens the base of knowledge, the higher one can elevate it…  “MM” seeks to build higher towers of knowledge by broadening the base. We are starting the new chapter of the life of “MM” by celebrating medicine, the arts, intellect, ideas, and curiosity. Some readers have strongly suggested that we should add education to the mix. We agree.

For millennia, humans have struggled with the complex issues of faith, belief, reason, the dualistic juxtaposed soul and body, deductive and inductive observation, and even right and left brain. Finally, at the beginning of eighteenth century, the birth of enlightenment, which lasted about 200 years (roughly the birth of Voltaire in 1694 to the early twentieth century the birth of aviation 1903), brought hope that faith and reason can co-exist.  And folks like Scottish philosopher David Hume (born 1711), and a generation later, caustic British cleric, Jonathan Swift (born 1745), can live together within the same century, disagree with each other vehemently, yet have good things to say about each other.

Enlightenment gave mankind the gift of idea, skepticism and curiosity. It permitted us to question things. It brought us the delight of being seekers, doubters and eternal students and learners. Romanticism followed enlightenment in the twentieth century. It deepened our abilities to be better seekers, and heightened our potential to become better students of science. The first theologian/philosopher/poet/existentialist/romanticist who ushered in the age of Romanticism was the Dane, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). There were other romanticists such as Byron (1788-1824), Shelly (1792-1822) and Keats (1795-1821) who fanned the wonderful ember of romanticism. They wrote about the beauty of the soul and man’s ability to fuse with mysticism.

In the 21st century we have the best of both. The faithful readers of this space recall our sharing the most recent contribution of science to finding solutions to the brain disease known as schizophrenia. We have the poetry of Rumi, Saadi, Baba Taher Oryan, and Romantic poets of Europe (see names above) to help our transcendence into amorphous ether of tomorrow. We will continue to assist the seekers and students of transcendence by providing recommended list of the writings of people of consequence, such as Saint Augustine of Hippo (his most celebrated book, The City of God, written in Latin, around 410 AD, and The Confessions) and other kalendars (Dervish) such as Khahjeh Abdollah Ansari’s Monajat,poems, written in Arabic and Farsi in 1245 AD.

As one enters the temple of transcendence, one finds many dwellers and many seekers of wisdom who use the same language, the language of love. Polyglossia and the Pentecost are eloquent testimonies that difference in how we speak and how we articulate thoughts and feelings are unimportant. Like music, the language of love and elevated spiritualism and deep connectedness of humankind are the same no matter where you go, and no matter who is speaking and in what language it is spoken.

One of the most intriguing words in the English lexicon is “curiosity.”  As physicians, we must remain curious and continue to learn as much as possible about our profession. In medicine, mere competence is NOT good enough. We must be excellent in what we do. We must be engaged in continuous medical education, keeping up with cutting edge research, medical literature, and read peer-reviewed journals. This unending curiosity is not only desirable but necessary. Yet, we cannot be curious by experimenting with drugs and wondering how they affect us and our brain by partaking some! Therefore, one form of curiosity is an integral part of practicing proficient and good medicine, while the other form of curiosity is a detriment. Also, being curious about other fields of knowledge expands our mental and cognitive capacity, and in many instances, brings us joy and fresh insight. “Monday Musings” is privileged to encourage curiosity, facilitate expansion of cognitive capacity, and elevate the majesty of human soul….


*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 Rosh Hashanah and Music

“Monday Musings” for Monday September 2, 2013

Volume III. No. 33/126


Back Bay Dedication Post-Boston Marathon Bombing

Rosh Hashanah, Jewish Year 5774

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

In the space of fewer than 11 days two holy occasions that ennoble the calendar are upon us. The first one is Rosh Hashanah which begins at sundown day after tomorrow, Wednesday September 4, 2013.The etymology of the word Rosh Hashanah is RAAS (HEAD OR BEGINNING) AL (OF) SENNEH (YEAR or DATE), THUS ROSH HASHANAH, the beginning of calendar. Wednesday marks the Jewish year 5774. Some reflections:

Moses was born 1590 BC, and reportedly lived 120 years until 1470 BC. Scholarship about birth of Moses, 3590 years ago and Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish calendar 5774 years ago is very interesting. The relationship between the two dates has gone through many twists and turns. The struggles very much remind me of the struggle of C-major and C-minor in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, battling back and forth for attention and primacy. The final note is the celebratory C-major coming through triumphantly. The currently perceived resolution of these two competing dates is simply that it was approximately 6,000 years ago when the world’s oldest religions simultaneously began to emerge. Abram of Ur renamed Abraham by the Lord (Genesis 17) had much to do with this remarkable emergence. We could say that this year marks 5774th year of the dawning of the human awareness of God…and the dawn of monotheism. It sends a chill down one’s spine to get in touch with human connectedness and history. Occasions like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Islam’s Eid-Al Fetr, celebrating completion of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, worship, and purgation of the soul (was observed on August 15), Easter Sunday and Purim, the Jewish Holiday that marks liberation of the Jews by Cyrus the Great (Book of Esther), collectively elevate our awareness that we are children of God and regardless of labels that separate us, we are inextricably inter-connected.  We wish everyone a joyful 5774 and life. Next week’s “MM” will be devoted to Yom Kippur and a book review on Moses Maimonides of Cordoba, the Rabbi, the formidable physician/clinician, the awe-inspiring medical researcher and discoverer, the superb medical ethicist, and the remarkable writer. Shana tova.

Music: Mankind’s Saviour

The recent New York Metropolitan Opera performance of Mozart’s masterpiece, Idomeneo, was a good reminder that Mozart was an ordinary man with all the flaws and scars of alcoholism, syphilis (from Pamena of Magic Flute), kidney failure and periodic bankruptcy, with an extraordinary and truly God-like mind to produce and write music of such complexity, architectural soundness of structure, yet immense sublimity and transcendence that is beyond any mortal’s comprehension. The gift of Mozart is available to all lovers of music. This particular performance was super special, because the international cast involved countries of Australia, England, Canada, South Africa, India, New Zeeland, and France. Our own Maestro James Levine, veteran Met Opera Music Director, and now conductor of the Boston Symphony, born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio,  who conducted the feast, was America’s contribution. The virtuous performance of the star-studded cast and Levine’s skillful directing once again proved that music is the universal language of peace, understanding and love bringing the message of brotherhood and connectedness to mankind.


 *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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A Few Thoughts on Messiah and Maestro Handel

Monday Musings for Monday December 10, 2012

Volume II. 40/92


A Few Thoughts on Messiah and Maestro Handel

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

NC Symphony and NC Master Chorale recently performed Messiah with authority, power, transcendence and luminosity that the piece deserves.  Here are a few thoughts about Messiah and our beloved octogenarian NCS:

Messiah is special in many ways:

1)     Handel (George Frideric) and Bach (Johann Sebastian) were born in Germany the same year, 1685.  Handel in Halle, and Bach in Eisenach, about fifty miles apart.  They followed different paths, different careers, and different life styles.  Probably never met.  Handel spent a lot of his professional life in England and wrote music for George II, former Elector of Hanover of Germany.  Handel was working for the Elector as a Kapellmeister.  He left Germany for Italy to further his musical education without the Elector’s permission. The Elector, who later became George II, King of England, was not very pleased.  Handel approached George II in London and apologized for abandoning his post.   Handel was forgiven by the king who commissioned the Maestro for many pieces of music, among them The Water Music. George II became very fond of Handel’s music.  It was Handel who composed music for the King’s coronation in 1727.  Obviously by 1727, Handel was well forgiven by his majesty.

2)    It is variously reported that Messiah was written by Handel in fewer than 30 days.  A true miracle.  His knowledge of the Bible was astounding.  His creative genius of musical composition was unparalleled.  Handel was a big man.  He did not mince words.  If he did not like a minion’s behavior, he would let his displeasure be known by beating up the irritant. Wonder if King George II was intimidated by Handel’s heft and bulldog demeanor?

3)    Messiah opened 270 years ago, in 1742.  King George II was in the audience at the performance premiere.  He became so excited by the majesty of the music that he rose during the Alleluia chorus.  Of course everyone else rose.  When the king rises no one stays seated!  The music touched him very deeply.  And that is why, to this day, audiences throughout the world follow what has become the cultural tradition and accepted decorum. We all rise when Alleluia chorus is sung.  Since 1742, Messiah has played continuously without cessation, in war, in peace, in famine and in abundance.  It has been played every year for the past 270 years.

4)    The only other musical lasting and playing continuously is Ibn Khaldoun’s Talavat of Qur’an passages.  Ibn Khaldoun was born in Tunis in 1332.  He was a brilliant Muslim economist, philosopher, theologian, polymath and music lover.  He wanted to bring music back to Islam,  a religion that had banned music.  Khaldoun wrote to the reigning Caliph suggesting and arguing that since it is acceptable to sing the passages of the Holy Quran, by fatwa, the Caliph should allow singing and music in Islamic nations.  The Caliph agreed.  Khaldoun started an annual singing competition for Islamic countries which continues to this day.  It is very much like our Oscars or the Emmys.  All Islamic nations send their best singers to participate in Talavat competition.  I believe Nigeria holds the current championship.  Talavat started in 1355 when Khaldoun was 23 years old. In the history of music, there are no other compositions known to have continuously played.

As an aside: Ibn Khaldoun forwarded the concept of trickledown economics.  One might recall that in 1981, Robert Mundell, Chairman of the late President Reagan’s Board of Economic Advisers, introduced trickledown economics.  He had studied Ibn Khaldoun.  In his writings, Mundell has made numerous references to the 14th century Arab economist.  A Columbia University professor of economics, Mundell conceived and created the Euro.  He is now working on a currency for the Middle East and the Arab world. Any suggestion what it might be called?  Mundell won 1999 Nobel Prize in economics.

Symphony no. 7 by Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by NC Symphony

In its 80th year, the NC Symphony has reached a degree of maturity, predictable excellence, and incredible versatility that is gratifying and admirable.  Recently, the symphony  played back to back the relatively short Mozart ‘s Symphony no 25 in G minor followed by the 75 minute technically demanding and colossal Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 7.  The 104 piece symphony with 26 violins, nine violas, nine cellos, six basses, 13 French Horns, two harps and a complement of piccolos, flutes, oboes, with 10 additional trombones and trumpets housed in the chorale loft of the concert hall, along with an impressive array of percussive instruments, provided a memorable evening.  The music depicted storm of war, softness and tranquility of peace, conflict, and human indignity.  The composition brought to mind synaesthetically, Picasso’s painting the famed Guernica and the tumultuous narrative of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  Guest conductor Carlos Kalmar’s mastery of the music brought Maazelian exactitude and  excellence which allowed for the majesty of the talent of the NCS’s musicians to be fully expressed.

We have professional sports such as football and basketball that get full weekly coverage in the local media.  I wish we would offer equal recognition to our NCS team.

*The writer is a Distinguished Life Fellow American Psychiatric Association, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill.  He is the Founding Editor and Editor in chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)

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