A life story is a carefully shaped narrative that is replete with strategic forgetting and skillfully spun meanings. Like any published memoir, our own life stories should also come with a disclaimer: “This story that I tell about myself is only based on a true story. I am in large part a figment of my own yearning imagination.”
– Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a medical research project. In broad terms, the researchers developed a virtual tool to evaluate the skills of doctors on a particular procedure without performing on a real patient, and they needed people at various stages of proficiency to test the training program. Since I was a total novice, it made me an ideal subject – I was expected to stumble and burn. In fact, I was so clueless that I had to ask the experimenter to repeat the instructions for the simulation. Then, through either sheer luck or innate talent (ha), I scored near the top of the chart.
Shortly after the study concluded, I was notified that after discussing with the co-researchers, the research team has decided to discard my data-point because “the instructions were given twice, which gave an unfair advantage over the other participants.” I wanted to reply, “But if a complete novice can score like this without knowing how to do the actual procedure, doesn’t that say something about the quality of the virtual evaluation?”
More interestingly, if I had scored much lower than the average novice – making the results look even better – would the research team have thrown out my data-point all the same? Continue reading →
At work I routinely saw patients who suffered from substance addiction. Addiction is a powerful motivator – it is heart-breaking to see patients forgo buying life-sustaining food, water, and medications to “save up” for the next cocaine fix. Traditionally science has pinned the mechanism of addiction to biological molecules. However, over the past few decades, scientific studies began to show that behavioral neuropsychology – the intermingling of biological molecules, behaviors, and how the brain ties everything together into an experience – is a far more complete way to think about addiction. This intermingling of different fields also shed light on addiction as a disease of a general, even beneficial, motivation pathway. Continue reading →
The fable of Buridan’s donkey tells of a donkey who is profoundly hungry. When put in the exact midpoint between a two identical piles of hay, the donkey was unable to choose which one it wanted and eventually dies of hunger. Ironically, if the donkey had only one and not two piles of hay to choose from, its life would have been easier (and longer). Obviously, people are smarter than Buridan’s donkey – are we? Continue reading →