As I told you in my last post, I received a ton of books for Christmas and am going through them as fast as I can. But this is a report on one of them that is particularly pertinent to this blog, and one that is good for one’s perspective.
The first is Thank You for Being Late, subtitled An Optimist’s Guide to thriving in the Age of Accelerations, by Thomas Friedman (Farrar,Straus, and Giroux, NY, 2016). If you don’t read Friedman’s books, you should, because they are current, beautifully researched and referenced, and both entertaining and educational. He has spent his life as a journalist, columnist, and book author, heavily in the Mid East (he majored in Arabic in college) and Washington D.C., and has a strong interest in technology and economics, although he spent the last portion of this book extolling the virtues of growing up in a middle class family in Minnesota.
In this book Friedman makes a good case for the fact that technology is accelerating, and we are having trouble keeping up with it. Friedman’s writings includes a large amount of comments from interviews and interactions with people ranging from exalted to victimized, and his title stems from a point in his life a few years ago when he changed from being annoyed by people being late to meetings, to thankful because this gave him a few minutes to think and relax. He has a deep interest in the “digital revolution”, and does an excellent job of describing what it is doing to us, for good as well as evil. He ends by extolling the virtues of units smaller than national governments (he too thinks the U.S. government no longer is covering the bases, partly due to increasing population, expectations, and complexity, and partly because change is occurring at a rate greater than populations, especially large ones, can cope with. His answer is multi-directional, and includes such things as more education and thinking about what is going on, but includes his argument for more action from smaller units (not only states and cities, but parts of cities). A lot of such feelings are going around, but not usually discussed with the breadth that Friedman has.
The other book is entitled I Contain Multitudes, sub titled The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong Harper Collins NT, 2016, also beautifully written and researched, and entertaining as well as educational. It is well worth reading when one looks in the mirror and thinks that what one sees is the center of the world, a member of your culture, your family, or even you
I was an undergraduate at Caltech many years ago, and it was run by physicists, who were then receiving most or the press. As an engineering major, I definitely did not feel in the front line, and in fact at one point was honored by being asked to visit the president (a physicist), whose agenda was to point out that my grades were quite high and had I considered switching my major to Physics. I had not. But I was flattered.
It has swung to more and more interest in the life sciences and lately has been consumed with what is called the microbiome—the microbes within the body, which number in the trillions (more than the “human” cells we have), and outnumber us in total DNA. I have received so much mention of these in the alumni mail and general media, that I consider myself as a life support system for these microbes, rather than what I used to think of myself (a large single entity). As the book points out, at one point we used to think of these microbes as bad germs, thanks to discoveries of people like Lister and Fleming , and that the goal was to get rid of them all. Consider the modern hospital. And in fact some of them are dangerous, and we have served ourselves well by our attention to getting rid of them. But as you may have been reading, we just may have gone too far. I recently had a bad experience with a bad G.I. microbe, which was finally controlled by a large dose of the drug we know so well that we call it “Cipro”, As those of you know who have gone through this experience know, the Cipro kills the bad bug, but also many, if not most, of the microbes that we need to digest food.
There is presently an evil bug called c-diff moving into the U.S. that likes to take over our G.I. tract while it is in its weakened shape from Cipro, requiring a different drug called Flagyl etc.etc.etc This approach can eventually lead to death. As my Caltech mags and the media keep telling us, the answer is to quickly re-plant the various necessary microbes in the G.I. tract (there are many varieties, so just yogurt won’t do it). Where is a good source? Heard of the fecal transplant?) So far our overly toilet trained society can’t deal with it (some people call it it a “shit enema”) so we are willing to lose innocent people. But this is the tip of the iceberg. The balance of microbes in our body is being thought more and more to be the key to health, and imbalances responsible for many presently untreatable diseases.
You may know all about it (I thought I knew quite a bit until I read this book), but you will like the book anyway—and go away with a much more realistic self-image.