Deep Places

Ross Douthat's book The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery is a beautiful painting of an intensely personal, painful, physical-psychological voyage. For five years Douthat suffered through what might be a combination of Lyme Disease and other sicknesses. Then again, maybe not. His symptoms and test results and progression were ambiguous and ever-shifting. Throughout his ordeal – which has, perhaps, begun to recede – Douthat is thoughtful and analytic. He asks questions, weighs evidence, performs experiments, and with open eyes ventures across conventional and unconventional medical seas.

"The body isn't a clean machine that sometimes breaks or leaks or rusts. It's a landscape in which many things take root." Douthat shares metaphors that echo Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained. Both examine Mind, with a wise distrust of introspection. Embodiment is central: thoughts live atop a physical substrate of interwoven biochemical events, a system with countless forces and feedback loops, stable and unstable equilibria.

Good health is an archipelago of islands in an ocean of illness. Life thrives on some islands and struggles to subsist on others. Journeys between islands are risky; the waters are cold and cruel. Death is in the depths. Douthat depicts the power of modern medicine, along with its limitations: "... official science is filtered through fallible institutions, politicized processes, and bureaucratic incentives ...", he writes. Evidence-based, statistically-tested science is best – most of the time. In exotic circumstances, though, when the ordinary fails it's rational to try the weird.

For now, at least, Douthat is back on land.

(cf Cold Hard Mind (2000-02-09), Altered Native (2002-01-24), Disease as Journey (2009-12-16), Evidence-Based Medicine (2010-01-16), Medicine and Statistics (2010-11-13), Deepak Chopra (2011-07-29), I Q's (2012-04-28), Mindfulness of the Body (2015-06-14), Inhabiting the Body (2015-09-10), Body, Treat Your Mind Well (2016-11-30), ...) - ^z - 2021-12-11