The Illusion of Certainty: A Modern Romance

Seeing Uncertainty As A Gift: The Best Sentence Carl Jung Ever Wrote

Although I didn't go around saying it, I was quite insightful, if you please. And if I could just tell you what is True about the world, you'd be much happier, let me tell you. The challenge for many of us is to grow out of that certainty. Out of our assumption that knowing about stuff -- how the world works, God, global politics, love -- is of any real value.

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At a men's spirituality group I attended for a few months, there was a bright guy who was easy-going and humble about his own thoughts and ideas. But when he would launch into concepts he learned reading philosopher Ken Wilbur, he would drop into this certainty zone, into this mode of instructing us in What Is True -- almost scolding us. I never heard too much, because I stopped listening when he got that way.

Deceived by a sense of finality. If the ways of the world and the things of the spirit look the same to me as they did 20 years ago, I am trapped in certainty. And no, it's not that everything is fluid and unknowable and relative, either. But what I realized is that it is, literally, impossible to learn anything about a subject when you are certain about it.

The internal "sense of finality" is a sign of presumption of complete understanding. Me, I'd rather listen to you tell me your tentative, half-baked, incomplete notion of how romantic relationships work. Long-time Ehrenreich readers will recognize her takedowns as medicalized versions of her autopsy of positive thinking in Bright-Sided Her very chapter titles tell you what Ehrenreich thinks of the medical profession and disease-prevention and life-prolonging alternatives: She notes, for example, that running guru Jim Fixx died at 52, author John Knowles—who wrote books on living past 80—also perished at 52, that a vegan diet didn't help Steve Jobs, and that women's fitness center mogul Linda Roberts died of lung cancer though she ate healthily and never smoked.

By contrast, Jeanne Louise Calmet lived to after having done lots of things contrary to medical advice. Sure, but these are outliers and all of them would have been marvels a hundred years ago when the average age at death was The heart if I might of Ehrenreich's book comes when her voice shifts from rant to science.

She has a Ph. In these sections—the bulk of which occur in chapters titled "Cellular Treason" and "Tiny Minds"—she offers a "dystopian view of the body," and that's putting it mildly. The same immunity mechanisms that help fight disease will, in some circumstances and in general as we age, switch from helpful to harmful. Don't look for balms; Ehrenreich clinically observes, "The survival of an older person is of no evolutionary consequence…. Ehrenreich walks us through studies that show that atoms and cells demonstrate decision-making properties that coordinate human demise.

Only toward the end of her book does Ehrenreich gravitate toward anything remotely cheerful. It's not religion; she sees far more evidence for black holes than for a soul or a deity. Her prescription is to live as joyfully as one can, surrender to the inevitable, and obliterate the self—the last of these her take on the Buddhist concept of ego death. Your life, memory, and works will disappear but the things that made life worthwhile—sunsets and nature, for instance—will continue for a long time.

In the final moments, the self can be suppressed through hospice, painkillers, psychedelic drugs, and in some places doctor-assisted suicide. So, again, what do we do with such messages? I haven't the foggiest idea; death, like birth, is a mystery in which we are unwilling participants. I worry, though, that Ehrenreich refracts too much through her own intellect. Most people don't have a Ph. Moreover, much of what she condemns suggests that we need better medical care, not less, and greater oversight in determining best practices from ineffective ones. In the same vein, we certainly need stronger regulations to curtail false claims, hucksterism, and the peddling of latter-day snake oil and electric belts.

And I really must caution against a cursory reading of this book, lest one conclude there is no need for medical screening. I know women who are alive because of mammograms; Ehrenreich is one of them. In the end, though, there's no getting around the fact that Natural Causes is such a downer that one could come away with the message of: Unless you're poor—then it's life sucks and then you die, a thesis Ehrenreich advances. Maybe all we can do is go on with the party, come what will. May 26, Stacey Camp rated it really liked it Shelves: I had a different reaction to aging: I gradually came to realize that I was old enough to die, by which I am not suggesting that each of us bears an expiration date.

There is of course no fixed age at which a person ceases to be worthy of further medical investment, whether aimed at prevention or cure. Been told that you aren't sick or been dismissed by a doctor? I am guessing most people at some point in their lives have experienced this frustration, and while Barbara Ehrenreich's Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Our Illusion of Control isn't specifically about misdiagnosis, it's about the many problems involved in the healthcare industry.

Some people have written about this book as though it's merely about deciding not to have preventative care once you reach a certain age, but that's only part of the picture. Ehrenreich takes on the health industry full stop, debunking the myths that manage to still dictate patient care and revealing the industry as it is, which is that it is a business. She also unravels the wellness and mindfulness industry that pervades America right now, which severely lacks evidence to support its claims.

What I came away with after reading this book is that medicine and the mindfulness industry , while wonderful and helpful, is still in the dark ages on certain issues, such as the immune system.

We still have a lot to learn about how the immune system compromises and interacts with the rest of the body. The book also made me feel less responsible for what happens to my body, because sometimes you can do all of the right things that society tells you to do - exercise, eat well, meditate, etc. Controlling one's body has become a business, whether it is one's looks, one's weight, or one's health. It's not just the medical industry that is trying to create more tests and interventions to prevent the inevitable - death - but it is also patients demanding more testing.

But Ehrenreich does not see value in subjecting herself to more testing that has no evidence to prolong people's lives when they get to old age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.

It does not apply to people with chronic health issues or those who have been and are sustained by medicine. I personally know I could not get my inhalers - which I rely upon twice a day to breathe - without seeing my asthma doc at least once a year. This review barely scrapes the surface of this book. There is so much good information here and so many thoughtful discussions about healthcare, medicine, and culture in the Western world. I think I highlighted half of the book. This is one of those books that will have a permanent place on my bookshelf for years to come as is the case with Ehrenreich's other publications!

Thank you to the publisher, the author, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of this book! For more of my book reviews visit me here: Book Review Blog Twitter Instagram Apr 12, Peter Geyer rated it it was amazing Shelves: Barbara Ehrenreich has been around for a while: Natural Causes continues a couple of themes evident in what I've read of her work: This is a particular interest of mine as well, in that I'm now in the senior category and am sharing a house with my mother, in her early 90s, who just wants to fade away and not be experimented on regarding an affliction or two.

I mention that because Ehrenreich reports on a number of approaches to life that see ageing and death as being something to be defeated, apparently something of interest to some people in Silicon Valley, none of whom are actually old, and whose approach to fellow humans customers, I suppose appears to be less than optimal, particularly regarding what has been presented elsewhere as a culture of overtesting, which of course has a lucrative aspect to it, although not for the person tested on.

At any rate, there appears to be a war on old age wars on anything don't appear to be optimal strategies and so there's amounts of exhortation or blame thrown around depending on a number of factors. Ehrenreich points out that "healthy" diets and so on can be the province of people who are financially well off, the middle-class if you like in ot's less broad description anyway, and so can afford particular foods, or fads if it comes to that.

So the poor or less-well-off can be blamed for their indolence etc. Some people can be considered less than human by those in power, and there's a particular kind of moral judgement hurled in that direction. The Author doesn't go into this in the depth I've suggested here, but there's plenty of evidence in the history of eugenics , a personal area of interest.

Having written in a previous book about the obvious problems with positivism or positive psychology overlapping constructs Ehrenreich ventures into the world of wellness, particularly mindfulness, which she relates historically to the counterculture of the 60s and noted its corporate applications, including in areas where the actual understanding of human beings isn't the highest.

I hadn't thought of mindfulness in this way as far as its origins go and it's an interesting dioscussion. A read of Jessica Grogan's book on that era, which I reviewed a while ago lends some plausibility to this view. This leads to a discussion on microphages and other cells in the human body, with the context being the author's doctoral studies. She discusses recent research that points out that microphages can in fact encourage th3e growth of cancerous cells, as well as destroy them, which kind of demolishes the view of the idea of a body in harmony etc.

She even recounts an experience with a doctor who prescribed antibiotics for her ill child, even though they were not appropriate. The reason given was that he prescribed them "for anxious mothers" which I presume was a judgement this person applied to every mother, regardless. Apart from some of the stuff on microphages, this is an easy to read book, which is what you would expect from Ehrenreich.

She asks good questio9ns and gives examples. There are plenty of notes. I almost forgot to mention that Ehrenreich spends some time talking about gyms, both from personal experience as she explains, including some unanticipated consequences , as well as from the observer's and researcher's point of view.

Her brief history sounds similar to what would have been the case here, although I'm only guessing as I've only been to a gym twice and I'm not sure that I did anything at all.. It was a long time ago, before local sport players and even some top-line players really ran around ovals and did a few exercises before kicking a ball around or equivalent.

The Delusions of Certainty by Siri Hustvedt

That was my experience anyway. I must admit that I've never seen this kind of thing as relevant, although there are people I know and value who do this kind of thing, or go running regularly. This kind of think helps your brain, apparently, so you can make better decisions.

But if you're not overly bright or poorly informed, fitness isn't going to help you. Reading something might be useful. The local newspaper here has a category called Executive Style, which doesn't help either as there are all these younger blokes who look good according to the current norms, but it seems their head is full of expensive cars, wines and other alcohol and various perks. Ehrenreich delves into this kind of thing, pointing to data which suggests that those who follow Executive Style and its equivalents are right and I am wrong.

So someone with my body shape who was kind of born crumpled is up against it for the kinds of positions that you're supposed to desire. There's also an issue of whether or not you should like your body, or subdue it in some way, and the resultant unhappiness observed and stress that can be seen in gyms, kind of a purifying, Manichean ritual.

I suppose the real issue is whether this kind of thing is actually benefiting someone or whether it's something that you have to do in the corporate world and elsewhere. I picked this up from the post office on my way across town to a lecture on loneliness, for which I have a personal and professional interest, and so read nearly all of it on the train. I mention the lecture because it was very disappointing, to me, anyway.

It seemed to be located in a paradigm similar to the kinds of things Ehrenreich critiques in her book, around notions of what's scientific and how this problem could be dealt with. However, the statistics and correlations on a variety of studies might mean very little, as that depends on the individual studies. Something published in a journal doesn't have instant credibility and there can be problems with method, including questions asked, and the nature of the sample, other than cumulative size.

I would have thought it was a social problem with a number of aspects requiring a bit of subtlety and some deep thinking; usually when something is identified as a "public health problem" it goes the way of the war on drugs, or the "crisis" of ageing as examined in this book. A subtext is that older people, or lonely people for instance cost money. In Ehrenreich's book people also make money from the pressure not to be old or that dying is a tragedy. Ehrenreich, for instance, comments on the recent death of the performer David Bowie at 69, by saying that was a fair innings, even aside from the way he might have lives his life, which I think is a point well taken.

I'm not as old as that, but I agree that he had a fair run, as i have, to be honest. What Ehrenreich is trying to achieve in this book is multifaceted, but like the issue I've mentioned above, she wants some deeper thought on what it is to be human, some better thought by researchers and medical practitioners, and for people in general to examine more carefully the propositions put forward by those who exhort them to improve or develop themselves in ways that can be dubious to say the least.

I received an ARC from https: This is my honest review that I am sending them. I'm a Barbara Ehrenreich fan, but I think that many readers would be better off if they skipped chapters It's a repetitive polemic, especially for people who have already read her earlier book, Bright-Sided. Making fun of GOOP is like shooting fish in a barrel. If you keep up with the news about evidence-based medicine, you won't learn an I received an ARC from https: If you keep up with the news about evidence-based medicine, you won't learn anything new, but your blood pressure will spike.

I would recommend reading the Intro, and then skipping to Chapter 6: Death in Social Context. As explained in the intro, Barbara Ehrenreich is also Dr Ehrenreich; she earned her PhD studying immunology and macrophages. She really hits her stride in chapters , describing the science of immune systems behaving badly. T-cells, monocytes and macrophages Tiny Minds reveals that cells do not behave deterministically; cells with the same genetics and the same environment may behave differently. She made a spot-on analogy to the quantum two-slit experiment.

She closed the book with some thoughts on 'Successful Aging' that are not the ones you might read in Shape magazine. There are things that we can not control. We can follow best practices to improve our odds, but they are odds, not guarantees.

A longer life is not a better life. The experiments that significantly prolonged the lives of mice required starving them as much as possible without actually starving them to death.

J. Krishnamurti - Ojai 1985 - Public Talk 1 - Why is our house in disorder?

A longer and miserable life is just more misery. I'll have desert, thank-you. How you deal with it is not set in stone. The people who have made the most peace with it are comfortable with what they have achieved not riches or fame and what they leave behind. If you read chapters of this book, you will learn a lot of science and gain some wisdom. It is a good investment of an evening's time. Feb 11, Jane rated it really liked it Shelves: One thing is for certain well, two if you count taxes: Ehrenreich builds a case for wise, life-enriching choices regarding the medical, wellness, and fitness choices we make.

After all, no matter how much iron you pump or kale you eat, you cannot control your amazing and not-always-on-your-side body. This is a counter-narrative to the stay-young messages that drive people to extremes.

Ehrenreich has a Ph. In cellular One thing is for certain well, two if you count taxes: Drawing on her own knowledge, current research on aging and immunology, statistics and clear examples of craziness from medical practice, dieting trends, and fitness crazes, she builds a case for ensuring we enjoy the lives we have, staying healthy in ways that make sense, trying to control only the things within our control, and pondering our relationship with aging.

While some of her examples, and her own choices, are a bit extreme, there is plenty of food for thought here. Thanks, Netgalley, for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Jul 26, Erin rated it it was ok. I thought the subject of this book was really fascinating, however, it turned out to be a very different spin on the topic than I was expecting. Although I don't necessarily agree with Ehrenreich's views regarding the medical world, I was intrigued by the first half of the book. But after her initial views on why some medical treatments can actually harm our health, I became bored.

There's a lot more scientific jargon than I was expecting, so I felt like a lot of the second half just went flying I thought the subject of this book was really fascinating, however, it turned out to be a very different spin on the topic than I was expecting. There's a lot more scientific jargon than I was expecting, so I felt like a lot of the second half just went flying over my head. I think this book might have benefited from a more commercial tone - something that would have been easier to relate to if you're not a scientist like Ehrenreich is.

I'd love to see another author tackle this topic to see if I could get more out of it. Natural Causes is her most controversial polemic to date. She strongly advocates against unnecessary medical exams, corporate mandated weight loss programs, fitness regimes, extreme diets, mindfulness meditation sessions, and wellness lifestyle gurus.

Juan Muñoz: The suspension of certainty

Ehrenreich bemoans the attention paid to healthy choices, which she feels will only postpone the inevitable. Her own background in microbiology, in addition to her experience as a cancer survivor, point to the prominence of macrophages, which can actively destroy healthy tissue and increase the size of tumors. Also the social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to mortality are often overlooked by medical professionals, who increasingly see the human body through a mechanized lens.

Ehrenreich believes that the problem with viewing the human body as a machine is that many common medical procedures e. By contrast, many medical professionals now perceive the failure of their patients to adhere to healthy lifestyle behaviors as a personal failure. Holistic and spiritual approaches may be equally effective as traditional medical treatment, though some unorthodox techniques have not been rigorously evaluated. Ehrenreich mocks the embrace of mindfulness by profit oriented major corporations, and lambastes luxury lifestyle brands which only benefit the wealthiest Americans.

As we age, social support is much more valuable than physical fitness in determining our quality of life. Accepting our decaying bodies is the price we pay for our sanity. Embracing death without fear is paramount. Readers may disagree with many of Ehrenreich's thoughts and opinions, but as always she makes us think about many preconceived and accepted ideas, which is the hallmark of her advocacy journalism. Reviewed by David B. Apr 22, Kent Winward rated it really liked it. An excellent reminder of not to trust the medical establishment as much as we do. Just as long as it is science, not ritual and societal expectation.

Aug 08, Hank Stuever rated it really liked it. An enjoyable -- if prolonged -- tract from one of our last, true, highly regarded crabs. And just the thing for a certain reader facing I've been reading Barbara so long I feel like I'm on a first-name basis with her. I almost always agree with her clear line of thought and her mistrust of all the B. She'll be forever known for "Nickel and Dimed," but I think she's fought the longer game against a more pervasive undermining of the human spirit, which wa An enjoyable -- if prolonged -- tract from one of our last, true, highly regarded crabs.

She'll be forever known for "Nickel and Dimed," but I think she's fought the longer game against a more pervasive undermining of the human spirit, which was fumigated to death by the so-called power of positivity. Everything dies, even the most balanced of us will die. Yet we've built a health-care and wellness system that deliberately roots around for ways to make us more miserable in the futile pursuit of immortality. She's right again -- and this time, reading her, I realized how low we're running on useful cynicism, grumpiness, etc.

True intellectual criticism has been replaced by flashes of Twitter outrage. Keep at it, Barbara! Apr 14, Mark Schlatter rated it liked it Shelves: The first half of this book is basically what I expected from Ehrenreich: Thus, she describes the arrivals of gym culture, yoga culture, mindfulness, etc.. This being Ehrenreich, she also clearly outlines how much of this culture is c The first half of this book is basically what I expected from Ehrenreich: This being Ehrenreich, she also clearly outlines how much of this culture is class driven.

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The yoga mat and the fancy water bottle have replaced the fur coat as signifiers of wealth and leisure time, while the poor eat "greasy" foods and smoke. The latter half of the book, however, is a shift. I bet you would not have expected to hear macrophages mentioned well over fifty times in this book.

Ehrenreich makes a cogent argument that the human body, rather than a well oiled mechanism, is a collection of suborganisms that can often fight amongst themselves thus, the appearances of autoimmune diseases and cancers. It's a turn that does put the lie to the "imagine your body well and it will be well" kind of thinking, but does lead the reader deep into topics such as cellular decision making.

Indeed, the very end of the book raises a host of philosophical issues, such as the nature of death and the existence or nonexistence of anything resembling a soul and the question of agency versus consciousness e. My guess is that readers coming to this from Nickel and Dimed are going to be more interested in the first half than the second half. However, it's clear Ehrenreich is enjoying calling on her graduate studies in biology to inform the second half.

I think it's an uneven mix, but still an interesting and thoughtful read. Not only do I reject the torment of a medicalized death, I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. But her overarching theme is "is this making your life any better". She seems to hav "In giving up on preventive care, I'm just taking this line of thinking a step further: It appears she is not very fond of doctors. She also hated the way they made her feel unclean during childbirth. She goes on to discuss cancer citing how "no significant decline in breast cancer mortality that could be attributed to routine mammographic screening.

Parts of the book read more like dense medical literature. The book started strong but then seemed to lose focus. One thing I did agree with her on is "Statistics cannot substitute for the human being before you; statistics embody averages, not individuals. But since we are in a modern age where some science, has helped medical doctors help people like me I agree with the statistics statement. Not all medicines work for all people. Sometimes doctors may have you try a few different ones, I tend to get most of the side effects so we have to try out different meds to find one that works to make me feel better, while at the same time not making me feel like crap.

May 03, Stephany rated it really liked it. A polemic in the truest sense of the word, which I did not bargain for but enjoyed, very much. Ehrenreich is so brilliant that I feel I will have to read this once or twice more to grasp it on the level it deserves. Ehrenreich begins with a personal story, to center the issue and set the stage for a broader, cultural examination and critique of not just specific events, but the beliefs and systems that create the experiences we are having, over medicalization driven by profit incentives and fea A polemic in the truest sense of the word, which I did not bargain for but enjoyed, very much.

Are we witnessing a scene of torture? Then you notice their arms, which are not bound or struggling, but gracefully extended downward, fingers splayed. Degas, in turn, saw his aerial artiste as a contemporary version of a saint or an angel ascending to heaven in a baroque ceiling painting. So which is it?

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  • The Delusions of Certainty.

Are these political prisoners, circus performers, or levitating saints? The answer is that they are all three - but not all three at once, only one thing at a time. Who they are and what is happening depends on the mindset we bring to bear when looking at them. And that can change each time we see them anew, for what we see or at least how we interpret it is a function of the mind as well as of the eye.

In his work, nothing is as it first seems; everything can be read in two or more ways. Take The Wasteland, an installation near the beginning of the show. At first sight, it looks incredibly simple - a bronze ventriloquist's dummy sitting on a shelf in an otherwise empty gallery looking out over a linoleum-covered floor.

The geometric design on the linoleum consists of an endlessly repeated double-L shape in beige, grey and black. Based on a design by the baroque architect Francesco Borromini, who was in turn inspired by an ancient Roman decorative pattern, the volumetric L shape changes orientation as we look at it - appearing to face left, right, up, or down depending on which colour we allow to predominate.

The pattern is static, but our mind constantly rearranges the different elements in it because the brain cannot see more than one colour and shape at the same time. The bronze dummy, a surrogate for the artist himself, looks out over a world in which nothing is fixed or certain.