Processing a hand problem, Shen Wei dance, and The Unpersuadables

by Rob Tiller

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It’s been more than a year since I injured my right hand in Dominica, and though it got better for a while, it still does not feel right. I was trying to play Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu recently, and just could not get the loud, fast parts to go loud and fast. I made an appointment with Dr. Edwards at the Raleigh Hand Clinic, with a view to getting a referral to an occupational therapist I’d heard about, and getting some helpful exercises to fix me up. I saw him on Friday, and got some bad news.

Based on X-rays (which he showed me on his iPhone), Dr. E quickly diagnosed osteoarthritis. This is one of those things that don’t get better, and generally get worse. He could not say how quickly it would progress. The doc recommended Aleve for pain. He mentioned that if it got a lot worse, I could eventually be a candidate for finger joint replacement surgery. Yikes!

As a youth, I tended to view intellectual pleasures as superior to physical ones, but eventually I came to welcome the physical side of life as a glorious thing. I’ve taken great satisfaction in dexterous use of my hands, on the piano keys, the computer keys, the camera buttons, and many other places. This diagnosis will take some time to process. Though, of course, life will go on.
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On Saturday we met up with some friends in Durham and had fine dinner at Rue Cler. Then we walked over to DPAC and saw a modern dance program by Shen Wei, the first show of the season at the American Dance Festival. The first SW piece, Untitled No. 12-2, started slowly: the curtain came up to reveal gray fog, and there was silence and blankness happened for a surprisingly long interval. Then we saw projections of abstract paintings by Mr. Wei. Eventually the troop began a slow traverse of the stage, with accents by individuals. The music was sparse percussion sounds. I found the piece overly spare and intellectual and underly physical.

The second piece, Map, was much livelier, with music of Steve Reich and large helium balloons. The choreography seemed well atuned to the energetic music, with sweeping gestures and twists, and small groupings moving in and out of phase. We liked it.

Afterwards, we walked over to 21C, the new luxury hotel in the former SunTrust building, and looked at their bold and brash collection of contemporary art. It’s open to the public, and free, and fun. Afterwards we stopped in a new place, Bar Lusconi, for an exotic beer.
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Today I finished reading The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science, by Will Storr. Storr narrates his encounters with intelligent people who believe crazy things, such as Holocaust deniers, past life regressionists, alien abduction experiencers, climate change deniers, and young earth creationists. In interviews, Storr challenges these folks, and confirms that they are impervious to reason and facts. Nothing can shake their beliefs. By way of partial psychological explanation, he draws on the work of Kahneman, Haidt, Ariely, Gazzaniga, Tavris, and Aronson regarding the inherent flaws in our mental processes, such as cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and unstable memories.

Storr is a journalist rather than a scientist, but he incorporates good source material and has genuine insight into the powerful illusions of consciousness. The book is also surprisingly personal, as Storr unflinchingly addresses his own biases and weaknesses. He recognizes that scientists can at times be highly unscientific, engaging in groupthink and suppression of evidence that doesn’t fit their world view. Perhaps most amazingly, as he engages with individuals who construct bizarre and odious theories, he manages to subject their ideas to fair scrutiny and at the same time respect their humanity.
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