Showing 51 - 60 of 199 annotations tagged with the keyword "Science"

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

New York is the setting for thirteen linked stories that profile a long line of curious and sometimes loony doctors who are passionate about medical science but often lack common sense and good judgment. Beginning with Dr. Olaf van Schuler in the seventeenth century and continuing over more than 300 years with generations of his descendants (the Steenwycks), missteps and madness loom large in this inquisitive and peculiar medical family.

Most of these doctors share common goals: They strive to eliminate pain. They attempt to expand the scope of medical knowledge. They seek the soul. In their quest for cures and enlightenment, many of these physician-scientists, their relatives, and patients embrace off-beat diagnostic techniques or unproven remedies: phrenology, magnetism, bloodletting, hypnosis, radium-emitting apparatus, electrical shocks, and lobotomy.

In "The Siblings," a doctor performs a lobotomy on his sister. She dies a few months after the operation. In "The Story of Her Breasts," a woman develops rheumatoid arthritis that may or may not be caused by her silicone breast implants. She also experiences guilt and worry after encouraging her 18-year-old daughter to undergo breast augmentation. In "The Baquet," hope is undeniable and a miracle cure is mesmerizing. In the book's final story, "The Doctors," two physicians - a father and his daughter - grapple with their strained relationship and the man's progressive deterioration that might be due to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

In the prologue to "The Anatomist" author Bill Hayes explains why he undertook the task of writing a biography of the author of the famous illustrated textbook "Gray's Anatomy." The reasons stem from his childhood and are multifold: an early interest in becoming a doctor, a fascination with religious (particularly Catholic) and artistic perspectives of the body coupled with an acceptance of his own homosexuality, a growing admiration for the writing and drawing in his bargain table copy of "Gray's Anatomy," and finally an attraction to a photograph of the enigmatic author in his anatomy lab - one of the few traceable artifacts of the man himself. Hence "The Anatomist" is not only a meticulous and fascinating biography of Henry Gray, the writer, and Henry V. Carter, the illustrator of "Gray's Anatomy," but also a memoir of the education and life of Bill Hayes himself during the period of research and writing this book. The book is a masterful mix of the history of medicine, anatomy education both current and historic, methodology of historical research, and poignant, insightful commentary on the frailties of human bodies and human relationships.

Hayes took three anatomy courses at University of California, San Francisco during the preparation of the book - one with pharmacy students, one with physical therapy students, and the final one with medical students. By the third course, Hayes was a pro at dissection and had first hand knowledge and appreciation of the skills needed to be an anatomist.

Because of the paucity of information available on Henry Gray, the bulk of the research rests on the diaries and letters of the tireless, self-critical and amazingly skilled younger member of the book's creative team - the artist-physician Henry Carter. Through Carter's diaries we learn of the formidable genius of Gray, his academic accomplishments, the genesis of the idea for the book, and Gray's early death at age 34.

Interestingly, in a pattern similar to that of Andreas Vesalius's "De Humani Corporis Fabrica," whose illustrator was most likely Jan Stephen van Calcar, the artist Carter receives scant reward or acknowledgement of his vast contributions to the book. Hayes's biography rectifies this hundred-and-fifty-year-old omission by tracking not only the career of Gray, but also Carter. Indeed, peppered throughout "The Anatomist" are more illustrations than quotes from "Gray's Anatomy."

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Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

The book is split into three parts, the Analytic Part, the Synthetic Part and the Theoretical Part. The Analytic Part begins with an excellent synopsis of earlier theories of comedy, joking and wit, followed by a meticulous psychological taxonomy of jokes based on such features as wordplay, brevity, and double meanings, richly illustrated with examples. This section ends with Freud's famous distinction about the "tendencies" of a joke, in which he attempts to separate those jokes that have tendencies towards hidden meanings or with a specific hidden or partly hidden purpose, from the "abstract" or "non-tendentious" jokes, which are completely innocuous. He struggles to provide any examples of the latter. In the midst of his first example, he suddenly admits that he begins "to doubt whether I am right in claiming that this is an un-tendentious joke"(89) and his next example is a joke that he claims is non-tendentious, but which he elsewhere studies quite intensely for its tendencies. Freud uses this to springboard into an exploration of how a joke involves an arrangement of people - a joketeller, an audience/listener, and a butt, often involving two (the jokester and the listener) against one, who is often a scapegoat. He describes how jokes may be sexual, "stripping" that person, and then turns towards how jokes package hostility or cynicism.

The synthetic part is an attempt to bring together the structure of the joke and the pleasurable tendencies of the joke. Why is it that jokes are pleasurable? Freud's answer is that there is a pleasure to be obtained from the saving of psychic energy: dangerous feelings of hostility, aggression, cynicism or sexuality are expressed, bypassing the internal and external censors, and thus enjoyed. He considers other possible sources of pleasure, including recognition, remembering, appreciating topicality, relief from tension, and the pleasures of nonsense and of play. Then, in a move that would either baffle his critics or is ignored by them, Freud turns to jokes as a "social process", recognizing that jokes may say more about social life at a particular time than about particular people; he turns this into an investigation of why people joke together, expanding on his economical psychic perspectives with discussions of social cohesion and social aggression.

In the third part, Freud connects his theories of joking with his dream theories in order to explain some of the more baffling aspects of joking (including how jokes seem to come from nowhere; how we usually get the joke so very quickly, even when it expresses very complicated social phenomena; and why we get a particular type of pleasure from an act of communication). He ends with an examination of some of these themes in other varieties of the comic, such as physical comedy and caricature.

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The Wizard of West Orange

Millhauser, Steven

Last Updated: Feb-23-2008
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The haptograph - an experimental device that mimicks ordinary feelings on the skin and stimulates previously unknown tactile sensations - sits in a locked room in the basement of a renowned scientific institution. It is 1889, and the reasearch facility is headed by the Wizard. He is a brilliant inventor who is cognizant of the importance of patents and profits. Multiple projects are ongoing, and the Wizard supervises all of them. One of his aims is to mechanically replicate each of the human senses.

The Wizard has many assistants. Kistenmacher, an electrical experimenter, is one of the best. His pet project is the haptograph. The machine consists of a body suit (covered by a network of wires, brass caps, and miniature electromagnets), battery, and unit containing replaceable cylinders. Two test subjects are enlisted. The research librarian (who tells the story in the form of diary entries) is a willing volunteer. Earnshaw, a stockroom clerk, is an unwilling participant.

Inside the suit, the librarian is impressed by a variety of familiar feelings of touch. When strange sensations - a total body caress, regeneration, an out-of-body event, and a sense of being suspended in air - are provoked, a new world is revealed to him. He experiences bliss. With ten times more funding and three additional researchers assigned to the venture, the haptograph could be commercially available in three years.

Dreams are smashed when Earnshaw deliberately wrecks the apparatus. The Wizard terminates the project and reassigns Kistenmacher to a more menial task. The librarian ponders the Wizard's motives in halting the development of the haptograph. Perhaps the gadget is too dangerous and even heretical. Possibly the public is not ready for it. Maybe the Wizard figures he cannot turn a profit from it.

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Therese Raquin

Zola, Emile

Last Updated: Jan-28-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Madame Raquin, a widowed haberdasher, lives with her son, Camille, who has a history of poor health and is weak and uneducated, and her niece, Thérèse, conceived in Algeria by Madame’s soldier brother and a “native woman,” both of whom are now dead. Raised by her aunt as companion to the invalid Camille, Thérèse is a model of repression. When Thérèse turns twenty-one, she and Camille marry, and the three move from the country to Paris. One day Camille brings home an old friend, Laurent. He and Thérèse become lovers and decide to murder Camille so they can marry. On an outing they go boating and Laurent drowns Camille.

The murder replaces their mutual passion with guilt, remorse, and evenutally, hatred. The two must wait before they can marry without arousing suspicion; they are both increasingly haunted by memories of Camille and visions of his corpse. When the aging and still-bereft Madame Raquin actually helps arrange for them to marry (to ensure that they will take care of her), they torture each other with their proximity, and they torture Madame Raquin, now immobilized and silenced by a stroke, by allowing her to learn that her trusted caregivers killed her son. The three live in torment until, finally, Thérèse and Laurent kill each other.

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Rope Bridge

Cohen, Nan

Last Updated: Dec-03-2007
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Nan Cohen's poem, Rope Bridge, from the collection of the same name, explores the intersections between science and art by lyrically describing a landmark psychological study on the attribution of emotion. The study, by Dutton and Aron in 1974, was based on the theories of Schacter and Singer from the previous decade. In one set of experiments, male volunteer subjects met a female assistant under two different circumstances - either in a benign setting or after braving the swaying Capilano Bridge. This bridge is suspended hundreds of feet above a river near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; subjects who met the assistant after crossing the suspension bridge were more likely to exhibit behaviors compatible with feelings of attraction to the woman.

The brilliance of Cohen's poem is the smooth interplay between scientific and poetic language. Imbedded in the poem are survey questions with lines ready for tick marks, as well as phrases such as "the attribution of a heightened state". The scientific language is not only juxtaposed, but intertwined with lyric flights: "Who would say: it is fear that takes my breath, / that wets my palms... / the fear that sleeps in me".

 

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In a future society in which biological reproduction is restricted and humanoid robots ("Mechas") are routinely manufactured to supplement the economic and social needs of humans ("Orgas"), Dr. Hobby (William Hurt) creates a prototype child Mecha, David (Haley Joel Osment), who has "neuronal feedback," the ability to love, and "an inner world of metaphor, self-motivated reasoning," imagination, and dreams. David is given to Henry and Monica, a couple whose biological child Martin is incurably ill and cryopreserved, awaiting a future cure.

More specifically, David is created out of Hobby's own loss and given to aid Monica's mourning for Martin, whom she has been unable to "let go" of as dead. It is thus Monica (Frances O'Connor) who must make the decision to perform the "imprint protocol" that will make David love her. After she stops resisting the desire to love a child (of any kind) again and implements the protocol, Martin is unexpectedly cured and comes home.

The ensuing turmoil sends David, accompanied by a robot Teddy bear, out into a nightmare world of adult Mechas, comprised of both Rouge City, where functioning Mechas like Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) do their sex worker jobs and also the fugitive realm where unregistered, discarded Mechas try to find the spare parts they need to rebuild themselves and elude trappers who take them to reactionary "Flesh Fairs" where they are publicly destroyed as an expression of rage against artificial technologies.

Joe and David, both set up and betrayed by humans jealous of their superiority at performing human functions, join together on a quest to make David "real" and return him to Monica. The quest takes them to a partly submerged Manhattan and sends David and Teddy two thousand years into the future to resolve the dystopic narrative.

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The Cloud Chamber

Maynard, Joyce

Last Updated: Oct-08-2007
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Nate, 14, comes home to his family's Montana farm one day to see police cars. His father, whose head is bloodied from a gunshot wound, is taken away in an ambulance. He and his 7-year-old sister are whisked into the house and cared for by an aunt until their mother, shocked and withdrawn, returns home. In the weeks following Nate finds it hard to get any adults to level with him about what happened, though he overhears conversations that make it fairly clear it was a suicide attempt. The kids at school withdraw from him and his sister; parents in the area tell their children not to play with them, as they always suspected there was something strange about the family. Only one girl, herself something of an outcast because of her father's aggressive fundamentalist preaching, befriends him, and becomes his partner in a science project.

Nate throws his energies into the project--creating a cloud chamber in which radiation from distant stars can be seen--and into pitching for the baseball team. Both are enterprises his father would have helped him with. His father, a dreamer and scientific visionary, is in a mental hospital, recovering. The police fail to find the rifle, but Nate and two friends do find it, and so exonerate his mother, who has been under suspicion in the inconclusive case.

After the contest, in which a disgruntled student sabotages what is actually a remarkably successful and well-made project, he takes Junie and the family car and drives several hours to find his father who, it turns out, is lucid and recovering, but blind. Their mother is selling the farm, they are about to move, but there is hope of some recovery on all sides, though not what any of them would have foreseen or chosen.

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Summary:

First published in 1991, and available in reprint edition, this is a compendium of selected artworks and excerpts of diverse medical and literary writings from pre-Hippocratic times to the end of the 20th C. Each chapter integrates selections from medical or scientific treatises, with commentaries written by historians, essays by physicians and writers, and prose and poetry by physicians and by patients. The 235 images in this book include illustrations from medical textbooks and manuscripts, as well as cartoons, sculptures, paintings, prints and sketches. The colour illustrations are stunning and copious, and provide a visual narrative that resonates with each chapter of the book.

The first part of the book, Traditional Medicine, includes chapters on Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment medicine. These serves as a preamble for the second part, Modern Medicine, which includes art, medicine and literature from the early 19th century to the end of the 20th century.

The chapter “From the Patient’s Illness to the Doctor’s Disease” illustrates the rise of public health and scientific research with excerpts from works by Edward Jenner, John Collins Warren, René Laënnec, and John Snow, together with experience of epidemic diseases described by writer Heinrich Heine in his essay on “Cholera in Paris”. The chapter on “Non-Western Healing Traditions” includes botanical research by Edward Ayensu, a short story by Lu Hsun and the writing and paintings of George Caitlin on North American Indian healing.

In the patient-focused chapter, “Patient Visions: The Literature of Illness,” are stories of sickness by Thomas DeQuincey, Leo Tolstoy, Giovanni Verga, Katherine Mansfield, André Malraux, and Robert Lowell. The chapter which follows, “Scientific Medicine: the Literature of Cure,” provides the medical counterpoint with personal correspondence by Freud, medical treatises by Wilhelm Roentgen and Louis Pasteur, an essay on surgical training by William Halsted, and an excerpt from George Bernard Shaw's play, Too True to Be Good, in which a microbe takes centre-stage.

There are chapters on “Medicine and Modern War,” which includes personal writing by nurses Florence Nightingale and Emily Parsons, and poems by Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, and “Art of Medicine,” with works by Arthur Conan Doyle, Anne Sexton, James Farrell and W.P. Kinsella.

The final chapter, “The Continuing Quest for Knowledge and Control,” contains no medical treatises but rather ends with personal reflections by the writer Paul Monette on AIDS, and by physician-writers, John Stone, Sherwin B. Nuland, Lewis Thomas, Dannie Abse, and Richard Selzer.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This collection of essays by surgeon-writer Atul Gawande (author of Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science --see annotation) is organized into three parts (Diligence, Doing Right, and Ingenuity) and includes an introduction, an afterword entitled "Suggestions for becoming a positive deviant," and reference notes. Each part is comprised of three to five essays, which illustrate, as Gawande explains in the introduction, facets of improving medical care - hence the title of the collection: Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. In typical Gawande style, even the introduction contains tales of patients - a woman with pneumonia who would have fared far worse had the senior resident not paid close and particular attention to her well-being, and a surgical case delayed by an overcrowded operating room schedule. Such tales are interwoven with the exposition of themes and the detailing of the medical and historical contexts of the topic at hand.

The essays, though loosely grouped around the improvement theme, can easily be read as individual, isolated works. The concerns range widely both geographically (we travel to India and Iraq as well as roam across the United States) and topically. For instance, we learn about efforts to eradicate polio in rural south India and the dedicated people who devise and implement the program. Another essay, far flung from the plight of paralyzed children, is "The doctors of the death chamber," which explores the ethical, moral and practical aspects of potential physician involvement in the American system of capital punishment (from formulating an intravenous cocktail ‘guaranteed' to induce death to the actual administration of such drugs and pronouncement of death).

In sum, the topics of the eleven essays are: hand washing, eradicating polio, war casualty treatments, chaperones during physical examinations, medical malpractice, physician income, physicians and capital punishment, aggressive versus overly-aggressive medical treatment, the medicalization of birth, centers of excellence for cystic fibrosis treatment, and medical care in India. The afterword comprises five suggestions Gawande offers to medical students to transform themselves into physicians who make a difference, and by including this lecture in the book, what the reader can do to lead a worthy life.

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