Marie Curie Invented Mobile X-Ray Units to Help Save Wounded Soldiers in World War I

These days the phrase “mobile x-ray unit” is likely to spark heated debate about privacy, public health, and freedom of information, especially in New York City, where the police force has been less than forthcoming about its use of military grade Z Backscatter surveillance vans.

A hundred years ago, Mobile X-Ray Units were a brand new innovation, and a godsend for soldiers wounded on the front in WW1. Prior to the advent of this technology, field surgeons racing to save lives operated blindly, often causing even more injury as they groped for bullets and shrapnel whose precise locations remained a mystery.




Marie Curie was just setting up shop at Paris’ Radium Institute, a world center for the study of radioactivity, when war broke out. Many of her researchers left to fight, while Curie personally delivered France’s sole sample of radium by train to the temporarily relocated seat of government in Bordeaux.

“I am resolved to put all my strength at the service of my adopted country, since I cannot do anything for my unfortunate native country just now…,” Curie, a Pole by birth, wrote to her lover, physicist Paul Langevin on New Year’s Day, 1915.

To that end, she envisioned a fleet of vehicles that could bring X-ray equipment much closer to the battlefield, shifting their coordinates as necessary.

Rather than leaving the execution of this brilliant plan to others, Curie sprang into action.

She studied anatomy and learned how to operate the equipment so she would be able to read X-ray films like a medical professional.

She learned how to drive and fix cars.

She used her connections to solicit donations of vehicles, portable electric generators, and the necessary equipment, kicking in generously herself. (When she got the French National Bank to accept her gold Nobel Prize medals on behalf of the war effort, she spent the bulk of her prize purse on war bonds.)

She was hampered only by backwards-thinking bureaucrats whose feathers ruffled at the prospect of female technicians and drivers, no doubt forgetting that most of France’s able-bodied men were otherwise engaged.

Curie, no stranger to sexism, refused to bend to their will, delivering equipment to the front line and X-raying wounded soldiers, assisted by her 17-year-old daughter, Irène, who like her mother, took care to keep her emotions in check while working with maimed and distressed patients.

"In less than two years," writes Amanda Davis at The Institute, "the number of units had grown substantially, and the Curies had set up a training program at the Radium Institute to teach other women to operate the equipment." Eventually, they recruited about 150 women, training them to man the Little Curies, as the mobile radiography units came to be known.

via Brain Pickings

Related Content:

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An Animated Introduction to the Life & Work of Marie Curie, the First Female Nobel Laureate

Marie Curie’s Research Papers Are Still Radioactive 100+ Years Later

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her interest in women's wartime contributions has manifested itself in comics on "Crazy Bet" Van Lew and the Maidenform factory's manufacture of WWII carrier pigeon vests. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Lynda Barry on How the Smartphone Is Endangering Three Ingredients of Creativity: Loneliness, Uncertainty & Boredom

The phone gives us a lot but it takes away three key elements of discovery: loneliness, uncertainty and boredom. Those have always been where creative ideas come from. - Lynda Barry

In the spring of 2016, the great cartoonist and educator, Lynda Barry, did the unthinkable, prior to giving a lecture and writing class at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

She demanded that all participating staff members surrender their phones and other such personal devices.

Her victims were as jangled by this prospect as your average iPhone-addicted teen, but surrendered, agreeing to write by hand, another antiquated notion Barry subscribes to:

The delete button makes it so that anything you’re unsure of you can get rid of, so nothing new has a chance. Writing by hand is a revelation for people. Maybe that’s why they asked me to NASA – I still know how to use my hands… there is a different way of thinking that goes along with them.

Barry—who told the Onion’s AV Club that she crafted her book What It Is with an eye toward bored readers stuck in a Jiffy Lube oil-change waiting room—is also a big proponent of doodling, which she views as a creative neurological response to boredom:

Boring meeting, you have a pen, the usual clowns are yakking. Most people will draw something, even people who can’t draw. I say “If you’re bored, what do you draw?” And everybody has something they draw. Like “Oh yeah, my little guy, I draw him.” Or “I draw eyeballs, or palm trees.” … So I asked them “Why do you think you do that? Why do you think you doodle during those meetings?” I believe that it’s because it makes having to endure that particular situation more bearable, by changing our experience of time. It’s so slight. I always say it’s the difference between, if you’re not doodling, the minutes feel like a cheese grater on your face. But if you are doodling, it’s more like Brillo.  It’s not much better, but there is a difference. You could handle Brillo a little longer than the cheese grater.

Meetings and classrooms are among the few remaining venues in which screen-addicted moths are expected to force themselves away from the phone’s inviting flame. Other settings—like the Jiffy Lube waiting room—require more initiative on the user's part.




Once, we were keener students of minor changes to familiar environments, the books strangers were reading in the subway, and those strangers themselves. Our subsequent observations were known to spark conversation and sometimes ideas that led to creative projects.

Now, many of us let those opportunities slide by, as we fill up on such fleeting confections as Candy Crush, funny videos, and all-you-can-eat servings of social media.

It’s also tempting to use our phones as defacto shields any time social anxiety looms. This dodge may provide short term comfort, especially to younger people, but remember, Barry and many of her cartoonist peers, including Daniel Clowes, Simon Hanselmann, and Ariel Schrag, toughed it out by making art. That's what got them through the loneliness, uncertainty, and boredom of their middle and high school years.

The book you hold in your hands would not exist had high school been a pleasant experience for me… It was on those quiet weekend nights when even my parents were out having fun that I began making serious attempts to make stories in comics form.

Adrian Tomine, introduction to 32 Stories

Barry is far from alone in encouraging adults to peel themselves away from their phone dependency for their creative good.

Photographer Eric Pickersgill’s Removed imagines a series of everyday situations in which phones and other personal devices have been rendered invisible. (It’s worth noting that he removed the offending articles from the models’ hands, rather that Photoshopping them out later.)

Computer Science Professor Calvin Newport’s recent book, Deep Work, posits that all that shallow phone time is creating stress, anxiety, and lost creative opportunities, while also doing a number on our personal and professional lives.

Author Manoush Zomorodi’s recent TED Talk on how boredom can lead to brilliant ideas, below, details a weeklong experiment in battling smartphone habits, with lots of scientific evidence to back up her findings.

But what if you wipe the slate of digital distractions only to find that your brain’s just… empty? A once occupied room, now devoid of anything but dimly recalled memes, and generalized dread over the state of the world?

The aforementioned 2010 AV Club interview with Barry offers both encouragement and some useful suggestions that will get the temporarily paralyzed moving again:

I don’t know what the strip’s going to be about when I start. I never know. I oftentimes have—I call it the word-bag. Just a bag of words. I’ll just reach in there, and I’ll pull out a word, and it’ll say “ping-pong.” I’ll just have that in my head, and I’ll start drawing the pictures as if I can… I hear a sentence, I just hear it. As soon as I hear even the beginning of the first sentence, then I just… I write really slow. So I’ll be writing that, and I’ll know what’s going to go at the top of the panel. Then, when it gets to the end, usually I’ll know what the next one is. By three sentences or four in that first panel, I stop, and then I say “Now it’s time for the drawing.” Then I’ll draw. But then I’ll hear the next one over on another page! Or when I’m drawing Marlys and Arna, I might hear her say something, but then I’ll hear Marlys say something back. So once that first sentence is there, I have all kinds of choices as to where I put my brush. But if nothing is happening, then I just go over to what I call my decoy page. It’s like decoy ducks. I go over there and just start messing around.

Related Content:

How Information Overload Robs Us of Our Creativity: What the Scientific Research Shows

The Case for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts & Doing Valuable “Deep Work” Instead, According to Prof. Cal Newport

Lynda Barry’s Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her New UW-Madison Course, “Making Comics”

Lynda Barry, Cartoonist Turned Professor, Gives Her Old Fashioned Take on the Future of Education

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How a Liberal Arts Education Helped Derek Black, the Godson of David Duke, Break with the White Nationalist Movement

Image of Ron Paul, Don Black, Derek Black (right), via Wikimedia Commons

A native of West Palm Beach, Florida, Derek Black grew up in one of the most prominent white nationalist families in the United States. He's the son of Don Black, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. And he's the godson of David Duke, "the most recognizable figure of the American radical right, a neo-Nazi, longtime Klan leader and now international spokesman for Holocaust denial" (per the Southern Poverty Law Center). In short, Derek Black had every reason to grow up a racist, and remain a racist from cradle to grave. But things didn't turn out that way.

Below, you can hear Black explain how, as a young adult, he broke with white nationalism, leaving behind his family, friends and community. What laid the groundwork for that break? Going to a small liberal arts college, encountering new ideas, and meeting different people. In this recorded interview, he tells Michael Barbaro of The New York Times:

In 2010, I moved across the state and started college at this little liberal arts college in Florida, which was about three and a half hours from home and it was the first time that I had lived away from home. Nobody knew who I was and I did not volunteer who I was or anything about my background, I made friends, hung out with people and played my guitar on my balcony in my dorm. It was nice to come back from class and be able to talk about history or philosophy or whatever other subject and be around other people....

I had a friend on campus who I had gotten to know during my first semester when nobody knew who I was, he was an observant Jew who had Shabbat dinners pretty regularly whenever he was in town on Friday night and he would invite people of atheists and all sorts of different religions. It was just a nice dinner. And so he actually invited me to one of the Shabbats, and I knew him, and so I brought wine...

He had read my posts on Stormfront [a white nationalist website created by Don Black] going back years — even the stuff when I was a teenager — and he doubted that he was going to convince me of anything, he just wanted to let me see a Jewish community thing so that if I was going to keep saying these anti-Semitic things that at least I had seen real Jews.

It was ultimately in private conversations with a person I met at the Shabbat dinners … we would talk about things. Not only white nationalism, but eventually white nationalism. And I would say, “This is what I believe about I.Q. differences, I have 12 different studies that have been published over the years, here’s the journal that’s put this stuff together, I believe that this is true, that race predicts I.Q. and that there were I.Q. differences in races.” And they would come back with 150 more recent, more well researched studies and explain to me how statistics works and we would go back and forth until I would come to the end of that argument and I’d say, Yes that makes sense, that does not hold together and I’ll remove that from my ideological toolbox but everything else is still there. And we did that over a year or two on one thing after another until I got to a point where I didn’t believe it anymore.

As you stream the interview below, spend some time thinking about the transformative power of a liberal arts education. Yes, more than an expedient business degree, it can change hearts and save lives.

Also pay attention to Black's final thoughts on what Trump's response to the Charlottesville drama did for the White nationalist movement: "I think Tuesday was the most important moment in the history of the modern white nationalist movement." Trump "said there were good people in the white nationalist rally and he salvaged their message."

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On the Power of Teaching Philosophy in Prisons

Philosophy is often seen as an arcane academic discipline, in competition with the hard sciences or laden with abstruse concepts and language inaccessible to ordinary people. Such a perception may be warranted. This is not to damn academic philosophy but to highlight what has been lost through professionalization: classical notions of ethics as “the art of living” or what Michel Foucault called “the care of the self”; the ancient Greek idea of parrhesia—bold, honest speech unclouded by proprietary jargon; philosophy as a practice like meditation or yoga, a technique for self-knowledge, self-control, and wise, just, and considerate relationships with others.

From Socrates to Aristotle to Epicurus and the Stoics, ancient Western thinkers believed philosophy to be intimately relevant to everyday life. This was very much the case in ancient Eastern thought as well, in the Jainist sages, the Buddha, or Lao-Tzu, to name a few. We will find some form of popular philosophy on every continent and every historical age. And while plenty of modern teachers still believe in philosophy for everyone, they operate in a consumer culture that often deems them irrelevant, at best. Still, many educators persist outside the academy, endeavoring to reach not only ordinary citizens but a class of disempowered people also deemed irrelevant, at best: the imprisoned, many of whom have had few educational resources and little to no exposure to philosophical thinking.




We have many examples of influential thinkers writing from prison, whether Boethius’ early Christian Consolations of Philosophy, Antonio Gramsci’s passionate Marxist prison letters, Oscar Wilde's De Profundis, or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s essential “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” These have maybe provided readers who have never been jailed with tragic, yet romantic notions of doing philosophy while doing time. But the philosophers who enter prisons to work with people convicted—justly or otherwise—of all manner of crimes cannot afford to have romantic ideas. Philosopher Alan Smith found this to be especially so after teaching in UK prisons for 14 years, and writing boldly and candidly about the experience in his Guardian column “Philosophy for Prisoners.”

Finally retiring in 2013, Smith confessed, “If I carried on in prison, I would have to do it differently; I would have to admit that it was prison.” He may have felt burned out at the end of his sojourn, but he hadn't lost his sense of ethical purpose:

When we don't know about history and art and society we are adrift. Most of you reading this will never have had that experience, but many of the men I taught were ignorant of just about everything, and as grown men felt this keenly. Education was a relief, a route to self-respect.

Those who do this work report on how so many inmates hunger for routes to self-knowledge, reflection, and rigorous intellectual exercise. Several educators at The Philosophy Foundation, for example, have written about their experiences teaching philosophy in various UK prisons. Conditions are different, and often much bleaker, in the US—a country with 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners—but here, too, philosophers have helped inmates discover new truths about themselves and their society. In the very short TED talk up top, Damon Horowitz, who teaches at San Quentin through the Prison University Project, gives a passionate, rapid-fire accounting of his mission behind bars: “Everyone's got an opinion. We are here for knowledge. Our enemy is thoughtlessness.” A chorus of venerable ancients would assuredly agree.

Further down, you can see participants in Princeton's Prison Teaching Initiative talk about the virtues and rewards of their accredited program. That includes teachers and students alike.

Note: You can find 140+ Free Philosophy Courses in our ever-growing list, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Comedic Legacies of Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis (RIP): A Study in Contrasts

Two titans of comedy passed away this weekend, but the deaths of Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis have seemed like cultural footnotes amidst some of the most anxious, angry few days in recent U.S. history. Gregory and Lewis are stars of a bygone era, maybe two full generations behind contemporary popular relevance. And yet, in many ways, the mid-20th century world where both men got their start feels closer than ever.

Both Gregory and Lewis once wielded considerable power in the entertainment industry and in their other chosen spheres of influence—the civil rights movement and charitable giving, respectively. In nearly every other respect, the two could not have been more different.

Gregory broke into mainstream success with a new wave of black comics like Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor, and like Pryor, he did so by telling painful truths about racism that many white Americans laughed about but were unwilling to honestly confront or change. You can hear an early example in the routine above, from his 1962 album Dick Gregory Talks Turkey.

Gregory got his big break in 1961 when he seized the moment in a tryout at Hugh Hefner’s Chicago Playboy Club. As he later told CBS Sunday Morning, “I pushed that white boy out of the way and ran up there…. Two hours later, they called Hefner. And Hefner came by and they went out of their mind.” That same year, he made his first national TV appearance. See it at 15:16 in the documentary Walk in My Shoes just above, which also features Malcolm X and Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) founder James Farmer.

In the playlist  below, you can hear three full Gregory comedy recordings, Living Black & White (1961), East & West (1961), and an interview album, Dick Gregory on Comedy. Throughout his career, Gregory was an uncompromising civil rights activist who was beaten and arrested in the sixties at marches and protests. He was at the 1963 March on Washington, faced down the Klan to help integrate restaurants, and fasted to protest the Vietnam War. In a review of his provocatively-titled autobiography, The New York Times described him as “a man who deeply wants a world without malice and hate and is doing something about it.”

He also did something about it in comedy. When Jack Paar’s producer called him to appear on the show, Gregory hung up on him. Then Paar himself called, and Gregory told him he wouldn’t come on unless he could sit on the couch, a privilege afforded white comics and denied their black counterparts. Paar agreed. “It was sitting on the couch,” he said, “that made my salary grow in three weeks from $250 working seven days a week to $5,000 a night.” For the next several decades, he leveraged his wealth and fame for humanitarian and civil rights causes, and even a run for mayor of Chicago in 1967 and a popular write-in presidential campaign in the 1968 election. He died at 84 a venerated elder statesman of stand-up comedy and of the Civil Rights Movement.

Jerry Lewis’s legacy is much more complicated, and serves in many ways as a “cautionary tale,” as Nick Gillespie puts it, for the hubris of celebrity. Lewis broke through in the 50s as the animated, rubbery comic foil to Dean Martin’s suave straight man in the hugely famous comedy duo of Martin & Lewis. See them above do a standup routine in 1952 on their Colgate Comedy Hour, with an introduction (and intervention) from Bob Hope. The act was a phenomenon. “Coming from literally nowhere,” writes Shawn Levy at The Guardian, “the pair rode a skyrocketing 10-year career that made them staples of American showbiz for the rest of their lives…. They met when they were just two guys scuffling for a break in Times Square, and they helped forge a new brand of popular entertainment suited to the postwar mood.”

In the same year as the broadcast further up, Lewis made his first appearance, with Martin and Jackie Gleason, on the Muscular Dystrophy Associations of America (MDAA) telethon. Just above, see them do a bit while the familiar banks of operators stand by behind them. Lewis began hosting his own MDAA telethon in 1966 and did so until 2010, raising billions for the organization, which remembers him as a “Comic genius. Cultural icon. Humanitarian.” Many disability activists feel otherwise, including many former “Jerry’s Kids,” his “pet name,” writes Gillespie, for the poster children he recruited to represent the MD community on the telethon and related advocacy materials. “The telethon was widely parodied,” and Lewis’s efforts have been seen by many activists and protestors as self-serving, perpetuating harmful, demeaning attitudes and encouraging pity for MD sufferers rather than acceptance and social equality.

As a movie star, Lewis often played an all-American doofus whose physical antics and stammering, boyish persona endeared him to audiences (see above, for example, from 1952’s Sailor Beware). As a director, he made tightly choreographed madcap comedies. He also traded in offensive stereotypes, participating in an ugly Hollywood tradition that emerged from anti-Chinese bigotry of the 19th century and anti-Japanese World War II propaganda. (Lewis was unflatteringly remembered in The Japan Times as the “king of low-brow comedy… forever squealing, grimacing and flailing his way” through various roles.) He introduced Asian caricatures into his act in the Martin & Lewis days (see below) and reprised the shtick in his critically-loathed 1980 film Hardly Working, in which, writes Paul Macovaz at Senses of Cinema, he “realizes an offensive, profoundly racist yellow-face sashimi chef.”

“I imagine that most viewers will be troubled by it,” Macovaz comments, “wrenched viscerally from their enjoyment of the Lewisian idiot and pressed squirming into the overdetermined conceptual narrative zone of American Orientalism.” Those viewers who know another of Lewis’s later-career disasters will recognize another awkward character in Hardly Working, the sad-faced clown of 1972's disastrous The Day the Clown Died, a film so ill-advised and badly executed that Lewis never allowed it to be released. (Just below, see a short documentary on the abortive effort.)  In the movie, as comedy writer Bruce Handy noted in a 1992 Spy magazine article, the comedian plays “an unhappy German circus clown… sent to a concentration camp and forced to become a sort of genocidal Pied Piper, entertaining Jewish children as he leads them to the gas chambers.” Meant to be his first “serious,” dramatic role, the largely unseen film now stands as an archetypal epitome of poor taste—an artistic failure that Mel Brooks might have dreamed up as a sick joke.

As Gillespie points out, Lewis’s last years saw him threatening to punch Lindsay Lohan and telling refugees to “stay where the hell they are.” Long past the time most people wanted to hear them, he persisted in making "racist and misogynistic jokes" and gave “the most painfully awkward interview of 2016” to the Hollywood Reporter. He became well-known for verbally abusing his audiences. The running joke that Lewis was beloved by the French, which “only made him less respectable in his home country,” may have been run into the ground. But in the latter half of his career, it sums up how much American comedians—even those like Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and Eddie Murphy, who were clearly influenced by his manic humor—were often unwilling to make too much of the debt. But looking back at his 1950s dada zaniness and at films like The Nutty Professor, it's impossible to deny his contributions to 20th century comedy and even a certain brand of absurdist 21st century humor.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Case for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts & Doing Valuable “Deep Work” Instead, According to Prof. Cal Newport

A familiar ding comes from your pocket, you look up from what you’re doing and reach for the smartphone. Before you can think, "it can wait," you’ve disappeared into the screen like little Carol Anne Freeling in Poltergeist. Taken by a ghostly presence with designs upon your soul—your time, emotional well-being, creativity—Facebook. Someone has requested my friendship! You like my video? I like you! Why, I’ve got an opinion about that, and that, and that, and that…. All the little performative gestures, imprinted in the fingers and the thumbs.

Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, WhatsApp, VKontact, Sina Weibo…. Just maybe, social media addiction is a global epidemic, a collection of emotionally, socially, and politically, toxic behaviors. As Suren Ramasubbu reports, “social media engagement has been found to trigger three key networks in the brain” that make us think intensely about our self-image and public perception, create new neural pathways, and release dopamine and oxytocin, which keep us coming back for more little red hearts, tiny thumbs-ups, and diminutive gold stars (good job!).




While the nature of addiction is a controversial topic, it will arouse little disagreement to say that we live—as Georgetown University Computer Science Professor Calvin Newport writes in the subtitle of his book Deep Work—in a “distracted world.” Newport’s prescription will go down less easily. Quit, drop out, tune out, opt out, get out of the Matrix, Newport argues, more or less, in his book and his TEDx talk above. He acknowledges the oddity of being a “millennial computer scientist book author, standing on a TED stage” who never had a social media account and urges others to give up theirs.

Any one of his overlapping demographics is likely to have a significant web presence. Put all of them together and we expect Newport to be pitching a startup network to an audience of venture capitalists. Even the story about why he first abstained could have made him a minor character in The Social Network. But feelings of professional jealousy soon turned to wariness and alarm. “This seems dangerous,” he says, then lets us know—because we surely wondered—that he’s okay. “I still have friends. I still know what’s going on in the world.” Whether you’re convinced he’s happier than the rest of us poor saps is up to you.

As for the claim that we should join him in the wilderness of the real—his argument is persuasive. Social media, says Newport, is not a “fundamental technology.” It is akin to the slot machine, an “entertainment machine,” with an insidious added dimension—the soul stealing. Paraphrasing tech guru and iconoclast Jaron Lanier, Newport says, “these companies offer you shiny treats in exchange for minutes of your attention and bytes of your personal data, which can then be packaged up and sold.” But like the slot machine, the social media network is a “somewhat unsavory source of entertainment” given the express intent of its engineers to make their product “as addictive as possible,” comparable to what dietitians now call “ultra-processed foods”—all sugar and fat, no nutrients.

Newport names another objection to quitting—the necessity of social media as an essential business tool—then pivots to his book and his commitment to what he calls “deep work.” What is this? You can read the book to find out, or get a Cliff’s Notes version in Brian Johnson’s video above. Johnson begins by contrasting deep work with “shallow work,” where we spend most of our time, “constantly responding to the latest and loudest email and push notification for social media, or text messages or phone ringing, whatever.”

While we may get little endorphin boosts from all of this heavily mediated social activity, we pay a high price in stress, anxiety, and lost time in our personal, professional, and creative lives. The research on overwork and distraction supports Newport's conclusions. The real rewards come from deep work, he argues, that which we do when we have total focus and emotional investment in a project. Without getting too specific, such work, Newport says, is not only personally fulfilling, but valuable “in a 21st century economy” for its rarity.

Social media, on the other hand, he claims, contributes little to our work lives. And as you (or maybe it’s me) scan the open social media tabs in your overloaded browser, and tune in to the cluttered state of your mind, you might find yourself agreeing with his heretical proposition. You might even share his talk on social media. Or decide to follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Related Content:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

10 Longevity Tips from Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, Japan’s 105-Year-Old Longevity Expert

Photo by Karsten Thormaehlen, via Wikimedia Commons

Robert Browning’s poem “Abt Vogler” imagines composer Georg Joseph Vogler as an old man reflecting on his diminishing powers and the likelihood that his life’s work would not survive in the public’s memory.

Let us overlook the fact that Vogler was 65 when he died, or that Browning, who lived to 77, was 52 when he composed the poem.

What’s most striking these days is its significance to longevity expert, physician, and chairman emeritus of St. Luke’s International University, Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, who passed away last month at the age of 105:

My father used to read it to me. It encourages us to make big art, not small scribbles. It says to try to draw a circle so huge that there is no way we can finish it while we are alive. All we see is an arch; the rest is beyond our vision but it is there in the distance.

Like many centenarians, Dr. Hinohara attributed his longevity to certain practices, backing it up with numerous books on the topic (including Living Long, Living Good).

He touched on some of these beliefs in a 2009 Japan Times interview with Judit Kawaguchi, from which the following pointers are drawn.

Ten Tips For a Healthy Old Age from Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara

Eat to Live Don’t Live to Eat

As far as Clint Eastwood, Sister Wendy Beckett and Fred Rogers are concerned, Dr. Hinohara was preaching to the choir. Your average Italian great grandmother would be appalled.

For breakfast I drink coffee, a glass of milk and some orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil in it. Olive oil is great for the arteries and keeps my skin healthy. Lunch is milk and a few cookies, or nothing when I am too busy to eat. I never get hungry because I focus on my work. Dinner is veggies, a bit of fish and rice, and, twice a week, 100 grams of lean meat.

Keep on Truckin’…

Nor was Dr. Hinohara a sit-around-the-piazza-drinking-limoncello-with-his-cronies kind of guy. For him a vigorously plotted out calendar was synonymous with a vigorous old age:

Always plan ahead. My schedule book is already full … with lectures and my usual hospital work.

Mother Was Wrong...

...at least when it comes to bedtime and the importance of consuming three square meals a day. Disco naps and bottled water all around!

We all remember how as children, when we were having fun, we often forgot to eat or sleep. I believe that we can keep that attitude as adults, too. It’s best not to tire the body with too many rules such as lunchtime and bedtime.

To Hell with Obscurity!

You may not be able to pull in the same crowds as a man whose career spans founding a world class hospital in the rubble of post WWII Tokyo and treating the victims of the radical Aum Shinrikyo cult’s sarin gas subway attack, but you can still share your ideas with those younger than you. If nothing else, experience will be on your side:

 Share what you know. I give 150 lectures a year, some for 100 elementary-school children, others for 4,500 business people. I usually speak for 60 to 90 minutes, standing, to stay strong.

Don’t Slack on Everyday Physical Activity

Dr. Hinohara schlepped his own bags and turned his back on such modern conveniences as elevators and escalators:

I take two stairs at a time, to get my muscles moving.

Having Fun Is Better Than Tylenol (Or Bitching About It)

Rather than turning off young friends and relatives with a constant litany of physical complaints, Dr. Hinohara sought to emulate the child who forgets his toothache through the diversion of play. And yes, this was his medical opinion:

Hospitals must cater to the basic need of patients: We all want to have fun. At St. Luke’s we have music and animal therapies, and art classes.

Think Twice Before You Go Under the Knife

Not willing to put all your trust into music therapy working out for you? Consider your age and how a side dish of surgery or radiation might impact your all over enjoyment of life before agreeing to radical procedures. Especially if you are one of those aforementioned sit-around-the-piazza-drinking-limoncello-with-your-cronies type of guys.

When a doctor recommends you take a test or have some surgery, ask whether the doctor would suggest that his or her spouse or children go through such a procedure. Contrary to popular belief, doctors can’t cure everyone. So why cause unnecessary pain with surgery? 

Divest of Material Burdens

Best selling author and professional organizer, Marie Kondo, would approve of her countryman’s views on “stuff”:

Remember: You don’t know when your number is up, and you can’t take it with you to the next place.

Pick a Role Model You Can Be Worthy Of

It need not be someone famous. Dr. Hinohara revered his dad, who introduced him to his favorite poem and traveled halfway across the world to enroll at Duke University as a young man.

Later I found a few more life guides, and when I am stuck, I ask myself how they would deal with the problem.

Find a Poem That Speaks to You and Let It Guide You

The good doctor didn’t recommend this course of action in so many words, but you could do worse than to follow his example. Pick a long one. Reread it frequently. For added neurological oomph, memorize a few lines every day. Bedazzle people half your age with an off-book recitation at your next family gathering. (It’ll distract you from all that turkey and stuffing.)

“Abt Vogler"

Would that the structure brave, the manifold music I build,
Bidding my organ obey, calling its keys to their work,
Claiming each slave of the sound, at a touch, as when Solomon willed
Armies of angels that soar, legions of demons that lurk,
Man, brute, reptile, fly,—alien of end and of aim,
Adverse, each from the other heaven-high, hell-deep removed,—
Should rush into sight at once as he named the ineffable Name,
And pile him a palace straight, to pleasure the princess he loved!
Would it might tarry like his, the beautiful building of mine,
This which my keys in a crowd pressed and importuned to raise!
Ah, one and all, how they helped, would dispart now and now combine,
Zealous to hasten the work, heighten their master his praise!
And one would bury his brow with a blind plunge down to hell,
Burrow awhile and build, broad on the roots of things,
Then up again swim into sight, having based me my palace well,
Founded it, fearless of flame, flat on the nether springs.
And another would mount and march, like the excellent minion he was,
Ay, another and yet another, one crowd but with many a crest,
Raising my rampired walls of gold as transparent as glass,
Eager to do and die, yield each his place to the rest:
For higher still and higher (as a runner tips with fire,
When a great illumination surprises a festal night—
Outlining round and round Rome's dome from space to spire)
Up, the pinnacled glory reached, and the pride of my soul was in sight.
In sight? Not half! for it seemed, it was certain, to match man's birth,
Nature in turn conceived, obeying an impulse as I;
And the emulous heaven yearned down, made effort to reach the earth,
As the earth had done her best, in my passion, to scale the sky:
Novel splendours burst forth, grew familiar and dwelt with mine,
Not a point nor peak but found and fixed its wandering star;
Meteor-moons, balls of blaze: and they did not pale nor pine,
For earth had attained to heaven, there was no more near nor far.
Nay more; for there wanted not who walked in the glare and glow,
Presences plain in the place; or, fresh from the Protoplast,
Furnished for ages to come, when a kindlier wind should blow,
Lured now to begin and live, in a house to their liking at last;
Or else the wonderful Dead who have passed through the body and gone,
But were back once more to breathe in an old world worth their new:
What never had been, was now; what was, as it shall be anon;
And what is,—shall I say, matched both? for I was made perfect too.
All through my keys that gave their sounds to a wish of my soul,
All through my soul that praised as its wish flowed visibly forth,
All through music and me! For think, had I painted the whole,
Why, there it had stood, to see, nor the process so wonder-worth:
Had I written the same, made verse—still, effect proceeds from cause,
Ye know why the forms are fair, ye hear how the tale is told;
It is all triumphant art, but art in obedience to laws,
Painter and poet are proud in the artist-list enrolled:—
But here is the finger of God, a flash of the will that can,
Existent behind all laws, that made them and, lo, they are!
And I know not if, save in this, such gift be allowed to man,
That out of three sounds he frame, not a fourth sound, but a star.
Consider it well: each tone of our scale in itself is nought;
It is everywhere in the world—loud, soft, and all is said:
Give it to me to use! I mix it with two in my thought:
And, there! Ye have heard and seen: consider and bow the head!
Well, it is gone at last, the palace of music I reared;
Gone! and the good tears start, the praises that come too slow;
For one is assured at first, one scarce can say that he feared,
That he even gave it a thought, the gone thing was to go.
Never to be again! But many more of the kind
As good, nay, better, perchance: is this your comfort to me?
To me, who must be saved because I cling with my mind
To the same, same self, same love, same God: ay, what was, shall be.
Therefore to whom turn I but to thee, the ineffable Name?
Builder and maker, thou, of houses not made with hands!
What, have fear of change from thee who art ever the same?
Doubt that thy power can fill the heart that thy power expands?
There shall never be one lost good! What was, shall live as before;
The evil is null, is nought, is silence implying sound;
What was good shall be good, with, for evil, so much good more;
On the earth the broken arcs; in the heaven, a perfect round.
All we have willed or hoped or dreamed of good shall exist;
Not its semblance, but itself; no beauty, nor good, nor power
Whose voice has gone forth, but each survives for the melodist
When eternity affirms the conception of an hour.
The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,
The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky,
Are music sent up to God by the lover and the bard;
Enough that he heard it once: we shall hear it by and by.
And what is our failure here but a triumph's evidence
For the fulness of the days? Have we withered or agonized?
Why else was the pause prolonged but that singing might issue thence?
Why rushed the discords in, but that harmony should be prized?
Sorrow is hard to bear, and doubt is slow to clear,
Each sufferer says his say, his scheme of the weal and woe:
But God has a few of us whom he whispers in the ear;
The rest may reason and welcome; 'tis we musicians know.
Well, it is earth with me; silence resumes her reign:
I will be patient and proud, and soberly acquiesce.
Give me the keys. I feel for the common chord again,
Sliding by semitones till I sink to the minor,—yes,
And I blunt it into a ninth, and I stand on alien ground,
Surveying awhile the heights I rolled from into the deep;
Which, hark, I have dared and done, for my resting-place is found,
The C Major of this life: so, now I will try to sleep.

- Robert Browning

Related Content:

New Study: Immersing Yourself in Art, Music & Nature Might Reduce Inflammation & Increase Life Expectancy

Walt Whitman’s Unearthed Health Manual, “Manly Health & Training,” Urges Readers to Stand (Don’t Sit!) and Eat Plenty of Meat (1858)

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 82 Commandments For Living

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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