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The Art of Change

I have never purchased a book that was categorized in the self-help
section of a bookstore, although I have purchased many books with the
hope of helping myself. My first books were fiction, mostly fantasy and
science fiction, and I read them as a means of escape from the everyday.
Not unlike a drug, I would become lost in fictional worlds of good and
evil, where almost always the heroes would prevail. Hours went by
quickly while I was reading in bed, and upon finishing a book, I would
feel a sense of journey, accomplishment, and subtle sadness which as an
adult is the feeling you have after returning home from the perfect vaca-
tion, knowing you must go to work the next day. I never wanted these
books to end. I didn’t want to leave alien worlds where morality had a
clear purpose.
Fantastic fiction was a form of comfort and support for my young
body, but as I grew older, I derived less and less self-help from these
types of books, and almost stopped reading them entirely, only occasion-
ally picking out a novel that had an appealing cover. I kept on reading,
of course, but I restricted my appetite primarily to academic-like texts
where knowledge is laid out on the page for easy access. Because I
traded epic-fiction for books of science, I must assume that both sorts of
books were fulfilling a similar purpose in me. The fiction provided es-
cape and moral certainty, while science promised the certainty of know-
ledge and hope.
The benefits of scientific texts soon wore off as well, and it was no
longer enough to bury my thoughts in the fruits of a scientific method.
Science for me was an escape, not unlike reading fantasy. Although
many people pursue science because they believe it is the one true way
to knowledge, I did so primarily to find comfort. It was a form of self-
therapy. I was still interested in biology and chemistry. I would contin-
ue to read textbooks on gravitation and relativity, and even commit to
books on applied and pure mathematics; but the usefulness of organized
science faded for me. I am not claiming that I learned everything one
could learn in science, only that I learned most of what I needed to
During medical school I began to explore philosophy, likely for the
same reasons that I had taken up science and fantasy before. Up until
that time I had considered most of philosophy useless. What good were
the theories of long dead men to me? It’s true. I took one philosophy
course in college—introduction to ethics—but I wasn’t passionate about
the subject, or so I thought. I took the course for a requirement and a
grade. In college and before there was no chance of me picking up a