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Posts Tagged ‘William J. Broad’

By definition, creativity goes to deep issues of psychology and ultimately what it means to be human — areas that science has always had a hard time investigating.  Science tends to do the easiest things first.  It is nothing if not practical.  This fact of scientific life suggests the magnitude of the challenge that investigators face.
Even so, the importance of the subject and the potential richness of the returns make it attractive.  Big risks can produce big rewards.  It is the kind of topic that might flourish in the decades ahead.
  —   William J. Broad
From his book:  “The Science of Yoga
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2016 Thinking Science Fictional
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2012 Disturbing
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2011 Unreliable And Selective
2010 Adult-Onset Athlete

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Life holds few mysteries greater than those concerning the wellsprings of creativity.  Thinkers down through the ages have developed many theories about what keeps the springs flowing and what causes them to dry up.  Freud proposed one of the most enduring when he suggested that the sublimation of sexual energy fosters the artistic temperament and the creative impulse.  But he denied that he, or psychoanalysis, could provide much else by way of explanation.  “Before the problem of the creative artist,” Freud remarked in a study of Dostoyevsky, “analysis must, alas, lay down its arms.”
  —  William J. Broad
From his book:  “The Science of Yoga
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On This Day In:
2019 I Doubt I Ever Will
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2012 Choice
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The timeless image [of yoga] is a mirage.  Yoga has changed many times over the centuries and needs to change again.
The stakes are enormous — and not just for the millions of practitioners who expect a safe experience.  The really gargantuan issue is helping the discipline realize its potential.
Physicians talk about breakthroughs in personalized medicine and pharmacogenetics —  of using information from a person’s genetic map to tailor medicine to his or her own particular needs.  But yoga can already do that.  It can turn our bodies into customized pharmaceutical plants that churn out tailored hormones and nerve impulses that heal, cure, raise moods, lower cholesterol, induce sleep, and do a million other things.  Moreover, yoga can do it at an extremely low cost with little or no risk of side effects.  It has the potential to usher in a genuine new age, not one of wishful thinking.
Western science tends to view the body as a fixed thing with unchanging components and functions.  But yoga starts from a different premise.  It sees a lump of clay.  The body in this view is awaiting the application of skilled hands.
  —  William J. Broad
From his book:  “The Science Of Yoga
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On This Day In:
2019 Can Too
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2017 Bricolage Art
2016 Just A Shame
2015 Treasures Of The Mind
2014 Not Quite Exceeded Reach
2013 Who’s Side?
2012 Why I Joined The Army And Not The Navy…
2011 Is It Your Turn Yet?
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As a science journalist, I have devoted my career to writing about science and trying illuminate its findings and methods.  Science is incredibly tough in practice despite its often gentle and glamorous image.  By nature, it seeks to limit the role of faith, to make as few assumptions as possible, and to subject the information it gathers as well as its own tentative findings to withering doubt.  A synonym for “science” is “organized skepticism.”  The process can be intellectually brutal.  The constructive side is that science, done right, also works to suspend judgment, to collect and test and verify before coming to firm conclusions.  In theory, it can see without prejudice.  That makes it a rare thing in the world of human institutions.
But science — even at its best, even with its remarkable powers of discrimination and discovery — is nonetheless extraordinarily crude.  It can quantify and comprehend.  What gets set aside can be considerable — the wonders of the Sistine Chapel, among other achievements.  Science, for all its triumphs over the last four centuries, sometimes fails to see the obvious.  It is blind to the individuality of a snowflake and the convulsions of the stock market, not to mention ethics.  No equation is going to outdo Shakespeare.
What I know with certainty is that science cannot address, much less answer, many of the most interesting questions in life.  It’s one finger of a hand, as a wise man once said.  I treasure the scientific method for its insights and discoveries, as well as for the wealth of comforts and social advances it has given us.  But I question the value of scientism — the belief that science has authority over all other interpretations of life, including the philosophic and spiritual, moral and humanistic.
  —  William J. Broad
From his book:  “The Science of Yoga
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On This Day In:
2019 An Interest In Life
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2016 Beyond The Foundation
2015 Become An Affliction
2014 Just Setting Out
2013 Scott’s Inscription
2012 Good Knowledge
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The Science of Yoga”  —  book review
Today’s book review is for “The Science of Yoga” (2012©), written by William J. Broad.  Broad is a science reporter for the New York Times newspaper.  He has received multiple awards in his career including two Pulitzer Prizes for his reporting.  Broad is also a yoga practitioner for over three decades.  Broad’s basic job is explaining science to the masses.  As such, he writes in a “friendly” style without any actual references to formulas or analysis of data.  When he uses “hard” numbers at all, it’s of the “two studies” with “about half” or “mostly women / men” variety.  This is not a criticism, per se, as this is pretty much the deepest level of science / math one can reasonably expect in a “science” report for the masses.
I am not a “serious” or even moderately proficient yoga practitioner.  I have had an interest in yoga since my early teens and have gone through the normal flexibility phases most athletes and wanna-be athletes go through every decade or so of my life.  I have also been interested in yoga for breathing and meditation and, so, also had (brief) periods where I “practiced” yoga for those purposes.  My point being, I am neither a devotee nor a complete novice in my understanding of yoga.  I picked up the book at a steep discount purely by serendipity when my local “Half Price” bookstore closed to relocate.  I paid $10 for a bag you could load with as much as it could hold.  I managed to get over 30 books – which I considered to be exceptional value.  This book was one of those.
Anyway, the book is broken down as you would expect for an academic report rather than popular reporting.  There’s a prologue, seven chapters, and an epilogue.  There are also a number (4) of introductory sections (lists of illustrations, main characters, styles of yoga and chronology of yoga) and a similar (5) number of end sections (further reading, notes, bibliography, acknowledgements and index).  The chapters deal with health, fitness, moods, healing, sex and “muse” (stimulating creativity).  Not counting the before and after, the book (my hardbound copy) is 222 pages in length and it is a quick read.
The book is sub-titled: “The Risks and the Rewards“.  The “risks” are that you can hurt yourself if you don’t know what you are doing, go to an instructor who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and / or if you push yourself too hard – too fast.  So far, that’s all pretty much common sense…  By hurt yourself, the author means, have a stroke or a serious muscle / tendon tear, etc.  The rewards are “perhaps” a longer life span, a extended period of healthier life, increased flexibility / mobility, relief from depression, less stress, faster healing, better (longer and more) sex, and you may also end up being more creative in work and in your personal life.
Is Broad convincing?  No.  Not really.  There have been some studies done on yoga.  Are they scientific?  Some.  And, kind of.  Better than nothing and better than purely anecdotal.  Broad ends the book asking which direction is likely for yoga: will it be religious and mysterious, or will it be examined under scientific conditions and thereby aid in the general health and welfare of society.  He clearly favors the second option.
Final recommendation: strong.  If you are interested in the history of yoga and “some” of the risks and rewards, this book is a FAR better introduction than most of the “Illustrated” and “For Dummies” books you’ll find at your bookstore.  It will help you manage your expectations of what you may get out of yoga practice.  It is, however, not a “starter” book at all as there are very few illustrations or explanations of postures / poses.  If that is what you are looking for, this book is definitely NOT for you.  Having said all that, I really did enjoy reading this book.  The topic (yoga) is of interest to me and it was interesting to have someone else to the work of researching the history, styles and players in the field.  It was also interesting to find yoga described with common sense supported by a lack of contradictory evidence, i.e. no levitation, no stopping your heart and still living, no surviving indefinitely without food or water (or breathing).  There is a saying that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  This is a refrain which struck me over and over as I read this book.  Broad doesn’t flat out say none of the yoga “miracles” are impossible; he just states that on review of the available literature, there is no proof.  At the edges of yoga accomplishments, that is the science of yoga.
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