What is Minimalism?

by Rajeev Kurapati

Minimalism is not fetishizing curated “simplicity” of clean loft spaces, of designer capsule wardrobes, or elaborately reduced diets.

It’s not a coincidence that most of the stuff we accumulate, the elaborate ward robes, the supplies for hobbies and the gratuitous display of power or status. Our urge to accumulate stuff is the result of centuries of social conditioning, mostly powered by consumer driven economy.

Minimalism is the refusal of this mindless consumption. 


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Do Soul Mates Really Exist?

by Rajeev Kurapati

Thomas Moore, in his book Soul Mates describes a soul mate as someone to whom we feel profoundly connected, as though the the communication and the communicating that takes places between us were not the product of intentional effort, but rather a divine grace. Richard Bach describes the relationship as, “our soulmate is one who makes life come to life,” and portrays the partner as “one who unveils the best part of the other.” 

So ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, people would spend their lives looking for their other half—their soul mate. For many, this search for their true love is the most important thing in their lives. This is exemplified throughout both ancient and modern literature.

The ancient Greeks used to host philosophical get-togethers attended by some of the most renowned thought-leaders in history. One of the most infamous discussions, The Symposium, was transcribed in great detail by the prolific philosopher Plato, who moderated the night’s discussion on the nature, purpose, and evolution of love. The attendees were each required to take the floor to describe their thoughts on the emotionally complex topic.

Plato’s Symposium, depiction by Anselm Feuerbach

The fourth speaker of the night, Aristophanes, was said to have painted quite a dramatic picture of the reason people so passionately seek a mate. His theory was that primitive humans were descendants from the moon and were androgynous—half male, half female. These sexually ambiguous beings set out to climb to the heavens to be one with the gods.

Aristophanes describes the fateful event:

Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods; attempted to scale heaven, and would have laid hands upon the gods. Doubt reigned in the celestial councils. Should they kill them and annihilate the race with thunderbolts, as they had done the giants, then there would be an end of the sacrifices and worship which men offered to them; but, on the other hand, the gods could not suffer their insolence to be unrestrained. At last, after a good deal of reflection, Zeus discovered a way.
He said: ‘Methinks I have a plan which will enfeeble their strength and so extinguish their turbulence; men shall continue to exist, but I will cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers; this will have the advantage of making them more profitable to us. They shall walk upright on two legs, and if they continue insolent and will not be quiet, I will split them again and they shall hop about on a single leg.

As punishment, Zeus, the god of all gods, chopped each person in half, separating the bodies into two separate beings.

After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one, they began to die from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart; and when one of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another mate, man or woman as we call them,–being the sections of entire men or women,–and clung to that.

Aristophanes concludes his thesis on why we love each other:

Suppose Hephaestus (Greek God of welding and sculpturing), with his instruments, to come to the pair who are lying side by side and to say to them, ‘What do you mortals want of one another?’
They would be unable to explain. And suppose further, that when he saw their perplexity he said: ‘Do you desire to be wholly one; always day and night in one another’s company? for if this is what you desire, I am ready to melt and fuse you together, so that being two you shall become one, and while you live a common life as if you were a single man, and after your death in the world below still be one departed soul, instead of two–I ask whether this is what you lovingly desire and whether you are satisfied to attain this?’–
There is not a man of them who when he heard the proposal would deny or would not acknowledge that this meeting and melting into one another, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of his ancient need. And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love.

While the tale may be a quixotic interpretation of mutual attraction, it shows that love, in all its glory and despair, has captured our imaginations and dominated our conversations since time immemorial.

For many people, love is the most important thing in their lives. This is exemplified throughout both ancient and modern literature. In his book, The Psychology of Love, American psychologist Robert Sternberg explains, “Without it, people feel as though their lives are incomplete.” Similarly, “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” says Saint Paul in a letter defining love to the Corinthians. He goes on to say, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Additionally, the poet Robert Frost expresses, “Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”

While spiritual gurus proclaim that love is the ultimate ground of all life, some philosophers and literary masters are unsympathetic in their expression of the sentiment: “Love is a serious mental disease,” says Plato. The author Oscar Wild calls love an “illusion.” John Dryden, an influential British poet, describes love as a “malady without a cure.”

What is this love that captivates the imaginations of so many—sages, prophets, philosophers, scientists, and you and me alike? Is love merely a physiological response that is born somewhere in our brains, or is it something more, something deeper and enduring?

To love and be loved is a fundamental and involuntary yearning. Our day-to-day connotation of love embodies a deeply passionate yet enigmatic feeling toward another person. Hippocrates proposed in 450 B.C. that emotions emanate from the brain and, since the dawn of scientific inquiry, researches have feverishly searched for the “seat” of love within the human brain. The science of biology describes love, matter-of-factly, as an emotion of evolutionary significance, a result of chemicals transmitting across neurons.

But despite our obsession with this lure—and the affection, passion, and rejection that often accompanies it—scholars and scientists struggle to this day to define what love is and who a soul mate is.


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From Artists to Technicians: How We Slowly Lost the Art of the Job

by Rajeev Kurapati

“In the next economic downturn there will be an outbreak of bitterness and contempt for the super-corporate chieftains who pay themselves millions,” management visionary Peter Ducker predicted in 1997. 

How did we arrive at the current state of the industrial economy we deal with now?  Did we dehumanize the soul of craftsmanship in our efforts to dramatically improve productivity? Today’s industrial management is an enterprise that has no patience for the nuances of human craftsmanship in its urge to find ever greater manual efficiency and mass production. Most of the credit goes to Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) whose tombstone in Pennsylvania bears the inscription “The Father of Scientific Management.”

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Taylor was probably the the first man in history who did not take work for granted but instead studied it. His approach to work still remains the basic foundation of the industrial economy. 

In the early 1900s, the scientific method was applied to the concept of labor productivity. In The Principles of Scientific Management, Frederick Taylor described his scientific assessment of how the management of workers impacted productivity. The goal was to optimize tasks and specializations to create best practices.

Taylor observed in The Principles of Scientific Management:

Even in the case of the most elementary form of labor that is known, there is science, and that when the man best suited to this class of work has been carefully selected, when the science of doing the work has been developed, and when the carefully selected man has been trained to work in accordance with this science, the results obtained must of necessity be overwhelmingly greater than those which are otherwise possible. 

Taylor conducted studies that utilized methods such as timing a worker’s sequence of motions with a stopwatch to scientifically prove the optimal way to complete a task. He determined that, for maximal productivity, the ideal weight a worker should lift in a shovel was 21 pounds. This knowledge enabled companies to then provide workers with shovels that were optimized for that 21-pound load. Formal performance measures were implemented. The result: companies saw a three-fold increase in productivity, and workers were rewarded with pay increases. It was a win-win for all involved, at least from a productivity standpoint. 

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The concept of productivity did not have much appeal prior to Taylor’s management methods. Skills were passed on to successive generations and learned by way of lengthy apprenticeships. Craftsmen made independent decisions about how their jobs were to be performed. Many carried out their tasks with immense passion and dedication, producing highly artistic work that was cherished for its  craftsmanship. As a result, it would take a considerable amount of time to produce even articles of daily use, such as baskets, bricks, or vases.

The application of scientific methods meant that skilled crafts could be scaled down to simplified jobs performed by unskilled workers, the reason why the world may never again see the likings of another Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, or Donatello—whose works were so profound that it almost feels like they left a piece of their souls in their creations. We convinced ourselves that the compromise was worth tolerating. The goal was to mass produce products or provide services to meet certain minimum market demands.

Taylor’s methods changed the outlook of the industrial era, as well as the sentiment of these skilled craftsmen. The method took away much of the autonomy craftsmen previously enjoyed in their work. With these newly implemented best practices, though, importance was given only to efficiency and productivity.

After years of various experiments to determine optimal work methods, Taylor proposed four principles of scientific management:

  1. Replace rule-of-thumb work practices with a scientific method for every task.
  2. Scientifically select, train, and teach each worker rather than passively leaving them to train themselves as best as they can.
  3. Insure that all work being done is in accordance with scientifically developed methods.
  4. Divide work nearly equally between workers assigned to the same task, and encourage management to establish many rules, laws, and formula to replace the personal preferences and judgments of the individual worker.

These principles were implemented in many work places, and the result was increased productivity. Henry Ford applied Taylor’s principles in his automobile factories. Even families began to perform their household tasks based on the results of these studies. The only downside was some initial resistance among workers, who complained that this method increased the monotony of their work. Ultimately, though, collective productivity took precedence over the subjective preferences of individuals. Scientific management changed the way we work, and decades later these principles were applied to hospitals and schools. Modified versions of these principles continue to be used today.

schools-as-factories

Taylor’s idea of “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” based on his belief that all workers were motivated by monetary reward, also took off. If a worker didn’t achieve his expected output in a given period, it was decided that he/she didn’t deserve to be paid as much as another worker who was more productive. The idea gained traction and was boldly implemented in doctors’ practices and hospitals. Since then, under industry rules, every doctor and hospital service within an individual medical facility is paid the same (more or less) amount for the same services and procedures they provide. The fees for an appendectomy, for instance, are the same whether the surgeon is fresh out of training or has 20 of experience. The more patients a doctor sees in a given day, the more productive he or she is, and thus the more lucrative his or her practice or the hospital’s bottom-line will be.

By grooming us to fit in with the rules and regulations of the industrial enterprise, we became a compliant cog in a giant machine. The idea behind this exercise was simple: people become easily replaceable if they are converted into predictable and subservient units. We can utilize person B if person A doesn’t show up to work today, for instance. This became the motto of industrial economy and has remained so ever since. Yes, all cogs contribute to the proper functioning of the society, but they are replaceable. So are you. 

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THE HOSPITAL CHECKLIST

by Rajeev Kurapati

Hospitalization can be a harrowing experience. Patients arrive seriously ill or injured, and in addition to whatever ailments they’re suffering, they must simultaneously find ways to cope with unfamiliar medical professionals and uncomfortable procedures. We doctors and hospital support staff are often asking these people—some of whom might be quite sick or in a great deal of pain—not only to quickly understand their complex conditions and treatments, but also to arrange for the assistance and care they’ll need after discharge. Many will find themselves facing new medications, follow-up treatments, a rash of specialists, unfamiliar equipment, and physical limitations—and this barely takes the emotional strain into account. It’s not difficult to see why such a large number of patients and their families report being overwhelmed by a hospital stay.

As a hospital physician, I see patients and families every day who struggle to understand the information they are (or sometimes aren’t) given. Patient advocacy—for yourself or for someone whose care you’re responsible for—significantly affects health and recovery. I want to help make you better at it.According to the World Health Organization, a study in eight hospitals showed that the implementation of checklists during surgical procedures reduced the rate of deaths and surgical complications by more than a third.

It seems likely, then, that patients would benefit from a checklist of their own. The following list is a resource meant to aid patients and their loved ones in better preparing for and understanding what information they’ll need before, during, and after a hospital stay.

hospitalchecklist

 

1. After admission, ask the names of your primary hospital doctor and the other specialists who make up your physician team. Your primary hospital physician will coordinate with the team, and your nurses will assist you during your stay.

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2. Ask your physician: What is my main diagnosis, and are there any other newly diagnosed issues? Feel free to express your fears and anxieties about your diagnosis to the physicians and nursing staff. Don’t let the anxiety build until it becomes uncontrollable.

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3. Ask your nurse or physician: How are my illnesses responding to treatment? Ask the nursing staff in particular about how your condition is progressing and how you can facilitate your recovery. It’s your fundamental right to obtain information regarding your medical condition. Understanding both your diagnosis and your treatment plan is a central tenet of the Patient’s Bill of Rights, which was adopted by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons in 1995. According to this document, all patients are entitled “to be informed about their medical condition, the risks and benefits of treatment, and appropriate alternatives.”

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4. Ask your family, friends, or other trusted individuals to be involved and help support you in your recovery. Yes, it’s hard to put ourselves in a situation where we feel like we’re burdening someone or losing our independence, even for a little while. Understand that these people are an integral part of your treatment team and contribute to the success of your recovery.

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5. Ask to speak with a hospital social worker if you have questions about insurance and billing related to your stay. The social worker is there to help clarify what your insurance covers and how much you may be required to pay. If you need assistance with payment, discuss the options available to you with the social worker before you leave as well.

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6. Ask to see the nurse manager or charge nurse if you’re experiencing ongoing issues with care or communication about your condition. The person in this role is responsible for helping patients and easing any misunderstanding or tensions that may arise during your stay.

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7. As you approach discharge, ask if you should continue taking any of the medications (including vitamins and supplements) you took before you were admitted. This information should be included in your discharge instructions, but take the time to fully understand this aspect of your care to avoid potentially disastrous or even fatal complications later.

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8. Ask the staff to show you and your caregivers how to perform any tasks prescribed for after you’ve left the hospital, especially any treatments that may require a special skill, such as changing a bandage or giving an injection. Ask the nurse or physician to remain in your room while you practice to ensure you’re doing it correctly.

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9. Ask your nurse or physician if it’s safe to perform ordinary tasks alone, like bathing, dressing, driving, or exercising. Make sure you’ve arranged for help with any of these activities before you leave the hospital.  

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10. Ask your nurse or physician if you can or should use any medical equipment, such as a walker, brace, or health monitor, to help with your recovery and comfort. If the answer is yes, ask for assistance in obtaining these items before you leave or shortly after your return home.

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11. At the time of your discharge, ask the discharge nurse any questions you have about your discharge information. You should have been provided with printed discharge instructions. Don’t leave the hospital without obtaining these, reading them (or having them read to you), and making sure you understanding allof the information they cover.  

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12. Ask about any follow-up appointments or additional testing. Take a moment now to record anything that’s already been scheduled or to schedule necessary appointments in the coming weeks.

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My hope is that regular use of this checklist will aid physicians in providing more streamlined and accessible care; will further educate patients in how to advocate for themselves; will help facilitate the best possible hospital experience for patients; and will reduce or eliminate some of the strain on the emotions, wallets, time, and energy of everyone involved. If we can ease the many demands of a hospital stay, we’re working in service a medical team’s goal: a successful patient recovery.


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The Day Our World Changed Forever: When Rene Descartes Daydreamed

by Rajeev Kurapati
Portrait of René Descartes (1596-1650) by Fran's Hals 1649. Statens Museum for Kunst, Coppenhagen

Portrait of René Descartes (1596-1650) by Fran’s Hals 1649. Statens Museum for Kunst, Coppenhagen

No one comes close to the ingenuity of the man who changed our fundamental understanding of nature (and ourselves) like the legendary French philosopher, scientist and mathematician Rene Descartes. He was not an inventor like Graham Bell or Galileo but he did something iconic. At a time in history when curiosity was suppressed in the name of conformity to the authority of religion and prevailing philosophy, he was the first among (the other was Francis Bacon) to assert that: “There is need of a method for finding out the truth.” As one of the history’s most intriguing minds, Descartes laid the foundation to reason and critical thinking.

There is need of a method for finding out the truth – René Descartes

What happens when a random flash of insight is coupled with an incredible capacity to comprehend and expand upon it? Rene Descartes life is filled with such impactful epiphanies. After determining that the typical path to a standard career wasn’t for him, Rene Descartes made a huge (and uncharacteristic) leap of faith by moving to Holland to join the military. Quickly realizing that he wasn’t necessarily cut out to be a soldier, Descartes made his mark as an engineer, relying on his keen mathematical sense rather than his physicality.

rene-descartes-quoteYears of intense education convinced him of only one thing – he could learn more by way of his own philosophy and studying science alone, without the distraction of textbooks and the authority of teachers.  He was right. One seemingly ordinary day, as Descartes lay in bed daydreaming, he idly watched a fly buzz about his room. He came to a realization at that instance – the position of the fly at any time could be represented by three numbers – providing a distance from the three walls that met in the corner. We know these today as the Cartesian co-ordinates. In school, we learned that any point on a graph is represented by two numbers, corresponding to the distance along the x axis and up the y axis.

What did this mean? It meant that any shape could be represented with just a set of numbers related to one another by mathematical equation. The discovery, once published, transformed mathematics from its roots. This discovery made geometry able to be analyzed using algebra – the consequence of which went on to inspire both the theory of relativity and quantum theory in the twentieth century.

You might also remember using the beginning of the alphabet (a, b, c) to represent known quantities, and letters at the end of the alphabet (especially x, y, z) to represent the unknown quantities. It was Descartes’ who inscribed this language into mathematics.

René Descartes, L’homme…. These drawings show the influence of Descartes’ knowledge of mathematics and geometry on his perception of how the body works.

René Descartes, L’homme…. These drawings show the influence of Descartes’ knowledge of mathematics and geometry on his perception of how the body works.

At the age of 24, Descartes left the military in 1620 and sold his estate he’d inherited from his mother, using the proceeds to finance his continued dedication to independent studies. From 1629 to 1633, Descartes worked tirelessly on his treatise Le Monde ou Traité de la lumière, which detailed his ideas on physics. Unfortunately, in a seemingly knee-jerk reaction, Descartes stopped publication immediately upon hearing news of Galileo’s trial for heresy as he was convicted for Copernican beliefs. Luckily Descartes was later able to recycle much of his work in different projects.

René Descartes, L’homme…. “…I desire you to consider, I say, that these functions imitate those of a real man as perfectly as possible and that they follow naturally in this machine entirely from the disposition of the organs-no more nor less than do the movements of a clock or other automaton, from the arrangement of its counterweights and wheels.”

René Descartes, L’homme…. “…I desire you to consider, I say, that these functions imitate those of a real man as perfectly as possible and that they follow naturally in this machine entirely from the disposition of the organs-no more nor less than do the movements of a clock or other automaton, from the arrangement of its counterweights and wheels.”

René Descartes, Renatus des Cartes de Homine figuris (Lugduni Batuorum [Leyden]: Apud Franciscus Moyardum & Petrum Leffen, 1662). In this work Descartes posited that much human behavior can be explained by mechanical responses rather than the actions of the soul. Through a better knowledge of the mechanics of the body, he hoped to cure and prevent disease, and even to slow aging.

René Descartes, de Homine figuris. In this work Descartes posited that much human behavior can be explained by mechanical responses rather than the actions of the soul. Through a better knowledge of the mechanics of the body, he hoped to cure and prevent disease, and even to slow aging.

His first publication after retracting his original treatise was The Method, published in 1637, which covered meteorology, optics and geometry. Perhaps most profound about this particular work was that it was one of the first essays that attempted to explain meteorology with science and not with the tales of higher beings. While a man of God, Descartes showed us that life and the world around us can be understood through science – all the Earth’s inhabitants obeying laws of which can be determined through experimentation and keen observation. These observations, along with the thoughts and studies of Francis Bacon, laid the groundwork for the scientific method we know today.

According to René Descartes (1596-1650), the universe operated as a continuously running machine which God had set in motion. Descartes argued that the universe was composed of a "subtle matter" he named "plenum," which swirled in vortices like whirlpools and actually moved the planets by contact. Here, these vortices carry the planets around the Sun. The vortex theory did not require a gravitational force, so when Isaac Newton proposed a universal force of gravitation in 1687, many preferred Descartes’ explanation, because Newton’s force was not a mechanical force. However, Newton’s gravitational theory worked so well in explaining such matters as the tides, the shape of the earth, and the variation in pendulum clocks with changes in latitude, that cosmic vortices were in general dissipation by 1750, and Descartes’ swirling matter swirled itself into total and complete invisibility by the end of the century.

According to René Descartes (1596-1650), the universe operated as a continuously running machine which God had set in motion. Descartes argued that the universe was composed of a “subtle matter” he named “plenum,” which swirled in vortices like whirlpools and actually moved the planets by contact. Here, these vortices carry the planets around the Sun. The vortex theory did not require a gravitational force, so when Isaac Newton proposed a universal force of gravitation in 1687, many preferred Descartes’ explanation, because Newton’s force was not a mechanical force. However, Newton’s gravitational theory worked so well in explaining such matters as the tides, the shape of the earth, and the variation in pendulum clocks with changes in latitude, that cosmic vortices were in general dissipation by 1750, and Descartes’ swirling matter swirled itself into total and complete invisibility by the end of the century.

The Discourse on the Method (French: Discours de la méthode) is a philosophical and autobiographical treatise published by René Descartes in 1637. Its full name is Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences. The Discourse on The Method is best known as the source of the famous quotation "Je pense, donc je suis" ("I think, therefore I am"), which occurs in Part IV of the work. (The similar statement in Latin, Cogito ergo sum, is found in Part I, §7 ofPrinciples of Philosophy.)

The Discourse on the Method (French: Discours de la méthode) is a philosophical and autobiographical treatise published by René Descartes in 1637. Its full name is Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences. The Discourse on The Method is best known as the source of the famous quotation “Je pense, donc je suis” (“I think, therefore I am”), which occurs in Part IV of the work. (The similar statement in Latin, Cogito ergo sum, is found in Part I, §7 ofPrinciples of Philosophy.)


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