Coping with Grief – a meditation on the interaction between emotions and professionalism

I’ve gone to two recent seminars on sensory processing, one on taste, one on hearing. I learned science from both, things about data analysis, about how to test difficult hypotheses, and best of all some new brain weirdness. They also started me thinking about how far, sometimes, science is from our everyday physiology. Why is this quote true (or at least one of the nicest things that can be said about patriotism)?

“What is patriotism but the love of the good things we ate in our childhood?”
~ Lin Yutang, Chinese philosopher

We taste, we smell, we hear wordless music and we are transported to another world, another time, a past that we remember incompletely.

This morning there was a small bit on the coming anniversary of the Sandy Hook killings. They are tearing down the school, and pulverizing and destroying all the material that was part of the school. A psychiatrist said that the pain of seeing the school was unbearable, and you cannot make people bear the unbearable (the content/semantic problems with that sentence we will defer to another day). And, indeed, people do bear the unbearable. We, and by large most mammals, judging from behavior, are resilient. Horrible, horrible things, by anybody’s counting, happen. And people are damaged, and they bleed inside and out, in public and in private. By and large they go on. Some don’t. For some the pain is so large there is no alternative. People stare into that pit and some tumble helpless to stop themselves. For some parents who have lost one child, the presence of another, the needs of another are not sufficient to tie them to this world, and the pain that surrounds them. For others, it is, and they go on.

My apologies, I’ve strayed a bit here. The good and the bad that generate extreme emotions, come at us, whether we are ready or not. We are told, implicitly and explicitly that extreme emotions don’t belong in science – both the grief and the joy. And as is true of nearly everything else in life, this is a continuous function, with lots of grey, or yellowish-blue if you prefer a different axis. I don’t know how much of this is the dominant paradigm of science being the stiff upper lip or the practicality of doing science. There are extremes that are not acceptable – one cannot do an experiment weeping hysterically, with tears falling in solutions or on electronic components. But an endzone dance when the paper gets accepted? Happens a lot in my lab. So, I leave with this, and the hope that someone will do the graduate student version of passed-my-orals, the postdoc version of got-a-job and the prof version of they-fucking-funded-me.


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