Dr. Sacks describing his meeting with the Noble Prize winning physical chemist Gerald M. Edelman:
While Edelman’s drive and single focus is admirable. Sacks goes further, admitting his envy for Edelman. Sacks recognized that while Edelman’s abilities were desirable, there was a freedom in his less “focused” life.
Sack’s intellectual work, a combination of working with patients, writing books, traveling, love for cephalopods, taking piano lessons in his seventies wasn’t “focused”. But it was rich.
Dr. Sacks opens the chapter – Voyages with a reflection on his father’s work ethic and subtle career advice.
After reading this passage Paul Graham’s essay How to Do What You Love came to mind. In that essay, Graham argues one should build a career (I’d argue a life) based on genuine interests, rather than prestige.
Sack’s father intuitively understood this. A neurologist does hold a higher status in society than a general practice doctor. And certainly more than a general practice doctor making house calls. But it was in that general practice, meeting the needs of his fellow man, that Sack’s father built a meaningful life.
I wonder if Dr. Sacks (sr.) had chosen Neurology, would he have had the same enthusiasm and stamina to continue working into his ninety’s?
The Constellation of Orion – seen in the West as a mighty hunter – also has a different interpretation in Australia. That’s partly because the stars are seen ‘upside down’ from the southern hemisphere. Contemporary Australians often pick out the central three stars of Orion’s ‘Belt’ and ‘Sword’ as a rather nicely defined Saucepan!
‘The Yolngu see the three stars of Orion’s Belt as three men sitting in a canoe,’ says Ray Norris, returning to the more ancient traditions, ‘with Betelgeuse and Rigel as the front and back of the canoe.’ Orion’s Sword – comprising fainter stars and the glowing patch of the Orion Nebula – is a fish caught on a fishing line. Norris enthuses: ‘Once you’ve been told this, and you’ve seen it, its actually really dramatic.’
Three men sitting in a canoe. A saucepan. A fish dangling from it’s line.
Switching hemispheres will switch your perspective.
I’ll never look at Orion the same way again.
New life goal: gaze at Orion from the southern hemisphere.