Beware Subtle But Critical Distinctions Of Meaning For A Healthy Life


Finger Pointing at the Moon, meaning of life, Myrko Thum blog,

This distinction between the finger and the moon would seem to be obvious, but this is not always the case. Click on figure for more information.


“The nun Wu Jincang asked the Sixth Patriach Huineng, “I have studied the Mahaparinirvana sutra for many years, yet there are many areas I do not quite understand. Please enlighten me.

The patriarch responded, “I am illiterate. Please read out the characters to me and perhaps I will be able to explain the meaning.

Said the nun, “You cannot even recognize the characters. How are you able then to understand the meaning?

Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?

Written by Myrko

Hi folks,

Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis, being a scientist, conflict,

This book presents the ongoing conflict that exists between Science and Science Management, and I suspect that it will always be thus.

During a long scientific career, the greatest compliment I ever received was from a person I respect, one Dr. Bahman Asgharian, who said to me one day, out of the blue, “Kevin, I want to thank you for teaching me to question the obvious.” For a researcher, this is the highest accolade one can bestow.

In fact, I was fortunate to spend 40 years of my life in a biological research career that I thoroughly enjoyed. Going to work was generally a great pleasure, except when management was out of control, but you will have to read Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis to understand this interesting issue. In a nutshell, as a researcher you are asked to discover new things, useful new things, and the managers, who generally dish out the money, will ask “What will you discover and when will you discover it and how much will it cost?” It is a reasonable question in some respects, but meaningless to the researcher, who just has to take a stab at the difficult questions or avoid tackling any real conundrums, and just do safe humdrum (and thus very fundable) research. I had my best successes with research when I did it as a hobby on the side, telling no one, and when I had an interesting answer I would wrap it up in words to explain how my results were what I was trying to find out in the first place. They swallowed it hook, line and sinker every time. When I had one really valuable result, the manager of the institute wrote to the funding agency to say that “He had personally ordered me to make the discovery.” This kind of thing can be irritating if you care about your personal reputation as a researcher, but once you let that go you realize that any PR is good PR as long as it is followed by solid funding, and you just return to the lab to have more fun – science manager’s don’t seem to have much fun, I noticed.

In here is the critical issue – why do science in the first place, if others are going to take the credit and you don’t really mind too much beyond mild irritation or even amusement? The answer is that you do science because you love it, period.

Pond with algae, FitOldDog's heaven as a kid,

The perfect pond for a 12-year-old biologist, like FitOldDog 57-years ago. Source of image unknown. Click image for related blog post on FitOldDog’s childhood.

At one time, as part of my job, I had the interesting task of advising doctoral students and post-docs (people with a PhD but needing to learn more about research) on their future career choices. One student, that I really liked, had a large picture, posted in their office (a small cubicle), of themself in degree robes with degree in hand, looking very serious. Everyone else had Dilbert of Farside cartoons. It was clear that this person was hung up on the trappings of science, not the science itself. This person (who will remain unidentified) couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag for research purposes, but when it came to following a preset protocol was excellent, and much better than I would ever be – I’d become bored and forget to do something. I suggested that they avoid soft-money research and become a study director – this in fact occurred, and all was well. I always used a ‘ballet dancer analogy’ to explain this issue – some ballet dancers dance for love of the dance, and others dance for love of the applause (self-glorification à la Robert Pirsig). This subtle distinction makes the world of difference to the life of the dancer (or scientist). Who do you think will be the best dancer? It takes some maturity to arrive at the point where other people’s opinions matter very little, beyond what they can teach you about yourself. Once you do arrive, applause becomes irrelevant in terms of one’s feelings of self-worth, but it is helpful for assessing how well you conveyed your message. Furthermore, public speaking becomes a fun game of entertainment, without the angst and worries associated with self-attachment.

Ford Pinto Disaster, exploding gas tank, rear end collisions.

Ford Pintos exploded into flames when rear-ended, but the company, following a cost-benefit analysis, lobbied against regulations designed to force them to fix such problems – it was a better financial deal for Ford if people continued to burn to death. A consequence of thinking they were making cars to make money, not the reverse.

Another such subtle distinction lay at the heart of the ‘Ford Pinto debacle,’ when the managers of Ford Motors forgot that they were making money to make cars, and thought instead that they were making cars to make money. This led to a horrific conclusion!

Such questions also apply to sports. Why do people do Ironman triathlons, for instane? For the inevitable “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” when they finish, or for the love of training. The latter is more lasting and enjoyable, and the odd bad race won’t put you off one little bit.

Why do you do what you do, I wonder? Ask yourself this question from time to time, it might change your life forever. Furthermore, your body will send you subtle messages, such as knee pain, but the real message might be, “Please fix our ankle” or “Our hips are too tight.” The distinction is critical when undertaking a program of safe exercise for better health.

Remember to question the obvious.

-k @FitOldDog


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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.