Claude Mulindi

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When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi

In a few words

Powerful memoir by late neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. Reflections on being a physician, cognition, and dying gracefully.


"If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?"

"Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action."

Acta non verba - actions, not words

"Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job—not a calling."

"Getting too deeply into statistics is like trying to quench a thirst with salty water. The angst of facing mortality has no remedy in probability."

"Years ago, it had occurred to me that Darwin and Nietzsche agreed on one thing: the defining characteristic of the organism is striving."

"The privilege of direct experience had led me away from literary and academic work, yet now I felt that to understand my own direct experiences, I would have to translate them back into language. Hemingway described his process in similar terms: acquiring rich experiences, then retreating to cogitate and write about them. I needed words to go forward."

Hemmingway quote above is an antidote to moral speculation and examining the unlived life. Not doing versus thinking, but doing then thinking, repeat.

"Moral duty has weight, things that have weight have gravity, and so the duty to bear mortal responsibility pulled me back into the operating room."

"If time dilates when one moves at high speeds, does it contract when one moves barely at all? It must: the days have shortened considerably."

"The inextricability of life and death, and the ability to cope, to find meaning despite this, because of this. What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy."

"You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving."