“I wish I could go to bed”

14 02 2014

This came in via Medscape, which a Medical Education/Newsportal most of us subscribe to. It’s a compilation of reflections from the Medscape panel on “Why we practice Medicine”

If you have a subscription, you can see the rest of the slides here.

Every Pre-Med should read this

15 10 2013

While at the infinity pool at school, I had this discussion with my friend about what the philosophical basis of Medicine is. What exactly is Disease and how do or can we know for sure? There are no easy answers to that, though I get the inclination that the boundaries of the question and the lenses we use to look at it, change slightly depending on the problem at hand. I went around looking for answers and discovered that there is an entire field called the Philosophy of Medicine. I bumped into an article at the Internet Encyclopedia of Medicine discussing these perspectives. I felt that it gives a good overview on the theory and practise of Medicine and the fact that I am now more familiar with the subject, it is easier to understand the philosophical jargon. I feel that the article gave me a better philosophical foundation to understand both the evolution of ideas in Medicine and added some colour and structure to thinking about the field. I’m planning to read around the subject, with more content to come!

#archive Healthcare spending may reach 3.5% of GDP in 2030

10 08 2013

This is the one article that talks about how much of it’s GDP Singapore spends on healthcare. Granted that we have “better outcomes”, I am not sure if we should be spending only 1.6% while we spend 24% on Defence.

He said Singapore is currently spending about 1.6 per cent of the GDP on healthcare.

By 2016, it would go up to two per cent of GDP and by 2030 when the rapidly ageing population will be the biggest driver of rising expenditure going forward, healthcare spending may reach around 3.5 per cent of GDP, taking into account demographic changes and higher medical inflation.

Mr Tharman stressed that Singapore should focus on achieving international standards for healthcare outcomes rather than simply on increasing spending.

#archive Repudiating scientism, rather than surrendering to it

9 08 2013

Despite the shit storm that is engulfing the freethought community, PZ gives scientism a good
beating in this thorough essay.

Which is why I was disappointed with Pinker’s article. I expected two things: an explanation that science is one valid path to knowledge with wide applicability, so simply applying science is not the same as scientism; and an acknowledgment that other disciplines have made significant contributions to human well-being, and therefore we should not pretend to be all-encompassing.

He’s committing the fallacy of progress and scientism. There is no denying that we have better knowledge of science and engineering now, but that does not mean that we’re universally better, smarter, wiser, and more informed about everything. What I know would be utterly useless to a native hunter in New Guinea, or to an 18th century philosopher; it’s useful within a specific context, in a narrow subdomain of a 21st technological society. I think Pinker’s fantasy is not one of informing a knowledgeable person, but of imposing the imagined authority of a modern science on someone from a less technologically advanced culture.

Oh, fucking nonsense. Humanities scholars are just as interested in making new discoveries as evolutionary psychologists, and are just as enthusiastic about pursuing ideas. What I’ve seen is that university presidents and provosts are typically completely clueless about what scholars do — does anyone really believe Larry Summers had the slightest appreciation of the virtues of knowledge? — so it’s bizarre in the first place to cite the opinions of our administrative bureaucrats. What this anecdote actually translates to is that a scientist stops by with an idea that needs funding that will lead to big grants and possible patent opportunities, and president’s brain goes KA-CHING; humanities scholar stops by with a great insight about French Impressionism or the history of the Spanish Civil War, asks for travel funds (or more likely, pennies for paper and ink), and president’s brain fizzles and can’t figure out how this will bring in a million dollar NIH grant, so what good is it? Why can’t this deadwood get with it and do something with cancer genes or clinical trials?

Heart, soul, poetry, beauty are not grist for the analytical mill of science, but they really are the core, and if you don’t appreciate that, the breadth of your education is lacking.

#archive Dangerous Ideas : Productivity is overrated

4 08 2013

Been getting a couple of wake up calls. Cal Newport cautions about being a productivity tips junkie here and reminds readers to focus of intensity.

Spoiler warning

The key to really getting ahead has nothing to do with productivity. From my experience with successful young people (and, as I writer, I have quite a bit of exposure to this crowd) what you need, put simply, is a drive to keep working, with a laser-like intensity, on something even after you’ve lost immediate interest. Tenacity. A grating thirst to get it done. These are the precursors of accomplishment.

Having good productivity habits compliment this crucial skill. They take this intensity and place it in a schedule. They keep small things from crowding your mind. They eliminate the stress of what appointment you might be forgetting or what vital errand has to be done. But productivity is not a substitute for this work.

This is a mistake I sometimes intuit is being made by young people with an interest in this community. There is a belief that if you get just the right system, with just the right calendar technology, and to-do notebook, and task management philosophy, accomplishment will come automatically. You can just turn the system on and watch it churn out what needs to get done.

#archive George Saunder’s Graduation Speech

4 08 2013

Don’t read further if you don’t want the spoiler. I thought of using the blog/tagging format to keep track of the important stuff I read. You can read the full article here.

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).

Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

Perspective I

19 07 2013

While I was trying to channel my anger into something constructive, I ran into a bunch of pictures in a feature by FSTOPPERS on Tom Hussey’s Reflections. It’s an eye opening look at the elderly staring back at a reflection of their younger selves. Hussey has a great portfolio on his website and you can see the entire collection here.

This something I ponder about a fair bit, in conjunction with reflections on Death, partly because that seems to be the next stage.  I’m surrounded by the elderly at work, so I am rather surprised/ashamed that I haven’t had the Old Age and Death conversation with anyone. Perhaps it’s the language barrier, perhaps I’m just caught up with the routine. I’ll do that the next time I see someone who might be willing.

That’s probably me in 40+years. If I live that long.



Med school advice … from The Devil

24 07 2012

Mephistopheles and Faust, 1925 illustration by Harry Clarke

While on my trip to Frankfurt, my friend took me to visit the Goethe House and I was inspired to read Faust to complement that. Goethe, who lived in the mid 1700s is considered one of the greatest German writers. His play Faust is about a bet that the Devil makes with God to prove that he can lead the best of men astray. Faust the protagonist, is a polymath dissatisfied with his academic  knowledge and makes a wager with the Devil

This is an excerpt from Section IV – The Study which I copied from Project Gutenberg’s edition of Faust (You can skip my sappy commentary and read the original uninterrupted). While Faust is away and getting ready to travel, a student approaches his study. The devil disguises himself as Faust and imparts his pearls of wisdom to the student. The devil in this scene  comes across as part wise senior and part troll. I am including some interpretations, which may not have been intended by Goethe, but it’s a fun exercise.


I’m tired enough of this dry tone,–
Must play the Devil again, and fully.


To grasp the spirit of Medicine is easy
Learn of the great and little world your fill,

Doctors are human too, hence the essence in Medicine is simple. Applying it requires understanding of both the large scale (populations, clinical signs) and tiny (bacteria, genes)

To let it go at last, so please ye,

You will forget most of the stuff you learnt in the first few years

Just as God will!
In vain that through the realms of science you may drift;
Each one learns only–just what learn he can:

You can study alot but there is only a limited amount of information you can fit into your head

Yet he who grasps the Moment’s gift,
He is the proper man.

Paying attention to what is in front of you now, i.e the patients in all their intricate glory, is ultimately what will help you

Well-made you are, ’tis not to be denied,

Yes, you are the creme-de-la-creme

The rest a bold address will win you;

I’m not sure what this means but perhaps it’s something like, people will give you a fancy title.

If you but in yourself confide,
At once confide all others in you.

I think there are two interpretations here. Firstly, if people feel that you can keep your mouth shut (i.e What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas) people will trust you. The other could mean, if you’re in tune with your own emotions, it’ll be easy to empathise and understand people.

To lead the women, learn the special feeling!
Their everlasting aches and groans,
In thousand tones,
Have all one source, one mode of healing;
And if your acts are half discreet,
You’ll always have them at your feet.

Don’t know what on earth he’s saying here. Really.

A title first must draw and interest them,
And show that yours all other arts exceeds;

Half of it is in the title. Heard of the Placebo Effect?

Then, as a greeting, you are free to touch and test them,
While, thus to do, for years another pleads.
You press and count the pulse’s dances,

Yes. Patients trust you. And they will let you examine them in ways no one ever has. Of course, you are interested in things about them which no one else ever would be, like the number of times their heart beats in a minute.

And then, with burning sidelong glances,
You clasp the swelling hips, to see
If tightly laced her corsets be.

So apparently, someone with a loose corset is innuendo for being a loose woman. Alright, here’s where you listen carefully. Whatever your patient’s background, you treat them with respect. Don’t be a douche bag and take advantage of them. Or somebody gonna get hurt real bad.


That’s better, now! The How and Where, one sees.


My worthy friend, gray are all theories,
And green alone Life’s golden tree.

Medicine is about life and death and it’s not meant to be entirely studied from a book. Go out there to the real world and see it for yourself, it’s pretty exciting. Also medical textbooks are damn boring.


I swear to you, ’tis like a dream to me.
Might I again presume, with trust unbounded,
To hear your wisdom thoroughly expounded?


Most willingly, to what extent I may.


I cannot really go away:
Allow me that my album first I reach you,–
Grant me this favor, I beseech you!

The student is so overwhelmed by the prep talk that he demands an autograph.



(_He writes, and returns the book_.)

STUDENT (_reads_)

_Eritis sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum_.
(_Closes the book with reverence, and withdraws_)

This is a quote from the Bible. Genesis 3:5 says, “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil”. I’m warning you here. Once you start studying, you will never look at the world in the same way again. Your side of the world will be full of death, disease and suffering. Though, I won’t say that is necessarily a bad thing, you did sign up because you want to help people right? Nonetheless, your worldview will take some adjusting and once it does, you will come to … well, that’s a topic for another time.


Follow the ancient text, and the snake thou wast ordered to trample!
With all thy likeness to God, thou’lt yet be a sorry example!

This reminds me of my high school days when we did a little bit of literature. I actually read through a study guide for this chapter and two posts by a Professor of the Arts. I didn’t like the study guide too much, it had a different interpretation than which I intended but the Professor’s ideas on the Biblical quote and Gray is all Theory are interesting.

Talking to the Infidel

22 05 2012

I’m sitting in a lovely cafe in Bangkok sipping some iced tea after a long day at work. I should be writing about how Bangkok and the Hospital have been surprising me, but this post, is as usual, long overdue.

This one is, after a long time, about non-believers like us and it started with an amusing incident on facebook.

You might want to read the facebook post to revel in the profound arguments in detail or you can have the executive summary.

Basically, Pink (the believer here, pink, because it is a nice colour) says that Religion and fear of the Afterlife keeps people’s evil in check. Black (the atheist, because we are drowning in darkness)  disagrees and points it out, calmly at first, then annoyed by the lack of a fight, turns up the heat. Then, Pink backs out and Black goes into full on argumentative Hulk mode.

You wouldn’t expect Facebook to be disseminating such wisdom!

Pink cannot take this and pulls a full out Ad Hominem attack and ends off with … “dun let the door hit you in the vagina”.  I have no idea how that would happen until I saw this on 9GAG.

Alright, now back to the serious stuff.

Many of us non-believers, feel that debate and argument are a wonderful way to learn. It is uncomfortable at first, but after the initial discomfort, it is a thrilling way to develop an idea and collaboratively refine it. Not that a lot of people can do it well (myself included) but it is the mainstay of skeptical discourse and I think it is here to stay.

When we argue with a non-believer, about religion, it’s often because we feel it might be an interesting question although we don’t agree with the answer religion provides. When we actually decide to participate, we hope it will be a fun and enriching experience for the both of us and that we might actually learn something.

On the believers’ part, it might actually be their virgin argument. Their beliefs might not have been questioned before and as a result they might forget their etiquette or take it as a personal attack. Let me remind you, questioning your belief is not a personal attack and most of the time, we are not making you out to be a bad person. People cross the line by making sexist, racist or homophobic comments. Especially so when they cannot offer a logical counter argument. It weakens their position and it reflects badly on them. And that goes for both sides.

So here is a great way to deal with it.

Since Pink, above, talked about the door hitting Black’s vagina here, I hereby introduce a BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism, masochism) concept. It’s called a Safe Word. In the midst of a BDSM activity, things can go horribly wrong so a safe word is a little “brake” to remind your partner that you are uncomfortable and would like the action to stop.

I would have liked to propose something fun and tongue in cheek, but I think I have a reasonable and functional phrase instead. The next time someone challenges your beliefs, I would actually encourage you to go ahead and have a civil discussion, but if you do feel uncomfortable, drop in a “It’s my faith(or belief)” and you may leave the discussion gracefully. The discussion might go on without you if it’s interesting enough. You can choose to live your life according to your faith, we might disagree about how much role faith should play in the public sphere, but we can’t really argue against faith. It’s a conversation stopper.

Also feel free to change the safe word to something else.

Wisdom from one of my favourite comics

More about the fun in Bangkok in an other post.


Celebrating Kabir

22 02 2012

As I was reflecting on and blogging about current affairs, like last week’s Campus Crusade fiasco, Kabir kept coming to me as an example of a gadfly who did more than just challenge. Kabir is an Indian saint from around the late 1300s (or early 1400s). He was born Muslim but apprenticed under a Hindu guru. He was a gadfly to both sides. Kabir is a wonderful mix of sarcasm, wisdom and compassion and he expresses that wonderfully in his simple and lyrical poetry. I idolise him for that.

Reading about Kabir, I discovered that Shabnam Varmani has directed an enlightening four part documentary about him and written an article about her journey. If you are new to Kabir, I think that’s not a bad place to start. The account of her experiences and reflections is liberally peppered with Kabir’s verse and an accompanying translation.

Below is Kumar Gandharva’s rendition of Kabir’s Ud Jayega. Kumar Gandharva was a Hindustani classical singer from perhaps the 40s (I couldn’t find much information about this). There’s an interesting parallel between his refusal to follow any of the specific lineages in Hindustani music and Kabir’s rejection of religious labels (both Hindu and Muslim). This particular poem, at least to me, has a haiku like feel to it and it’s enhanced by Kumar Gandharvas almost melancholic voice.

The Last Flight

Ud Jayega Huns Akela,
Jug Darshan Ka Mela
Jaise Paat Gire Taruvar Se,
Milna Bahut Duhela

The Swan Will Fly Away All Alone,
Spectacle of the World Will Be a Mere Fair
As the Leaf Falls from the Tree
Is Difficult to Find
Who Knows Where it Will Fall

Read the full lyrics