Quote of the day

“Explanations are, in effect, predictions about what has happened ”
— John Searle

Obituary: Oliver Sacks

In his practice as a neurologist Oliver Sacks treated the person rather than the illness. He favoured “the warmth of individual lives” over “the cooler strength of general principles”. In his popular case-histories of mental disorders he likewise ranged between art and science. He “undoubtedly drew from life in his writings, though he may have used a measure of embellishment when it suited his purpose” (1,930 words)

We Hate Cheap Things

To say that we value things because they are expensive is almost a truism; but the logic of it is far from obvious. When pineapples were expensive and rare they were served to kings and celebrated in art — a sculpted pineapple tops the south tower of St Paul’s Cathedral. Now that pineapples are cheap, they are “one of the world’s least glamorous fruits”. Yet they still taste the same. What do we gain from devaluing the things we can afford? (3,250 words)

The Bored Room Table

What is it with men at dinner parties? They try to organise the evening as it if were a board meeting. The moment the host taps his knife against his glass to take charge of the conversation, the men start showing off and the women shut up. Even the editor of the FT does it. “I sat there saying nothing while one guest after another held forth. A small part of me was bored; a far larger part was humiliated by my own silence” (850 words)

Mary Karr: The Art Of Memoir

Full-throated interview with Mary Karr about her three volumes of memoirs covering an East Texas childhood, drink, depression, sobriety, marriage, prayer, and David Foster Wallace. “The self has to be different at the end of the book than it was at the beginning. Otherwise you have what I call the ass-whipping memoir. Year one: ass-whipping. Year two: ass-whipping. Then they slap Mommy Dearest on it and shove it into the bookstores” (11,300 words)

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

RIP Oliver Sacks. This was the essay which established Sacks as the finest writer of case-histories since Freud. “There was a hint of a smile on [Dr P’s] face. He appeared to have decided the examination was over, and started to look round for his hat. He reached out his hand, and took hold of his wife’s head, tried to lift it off, to put it on. He had apparently mistaken his wife for a hat! His wife looked as if she was used to such things” (4,200 words)

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