Thursday, December 31, 2009

On death and obscurity

I was drawn to the NY Times obituary page this morning because I just found out about the death of Kim Peek earlier in the week. He will forever be known as the pseudo-inspiration for the movie 'Rainman', but his intellectual ability absolutely dwarfed even this impressive portrayal. It is amazing to think that after decades of undoubted progress and breakthroughs in neuroscience, we have nothing short of terribly inadequate explanations for describing both the tremendous feats and tragic limitations of the human brain. With his passing, the world loses one of the most quizzical cases that will surely challenge scientists theories on the nature of memory for decades if not centuries to come. I strongly encourage you to take a few moments to read about his phenomenal life and, if you get the chance, search through the plethora of articles and documentaries that have chronicled his accomplishments and struggles.

While this initially drew me to the Times, I found myself reading more and more obituaries and as macabre as it may sound, will continue doing so in the future. I'm not in the slightest way schilling for the NY Times (from which I read articlesfairly infrequently, Paul Krugman aside), but they have a prolific obituary department that as best as I can tell is an industry anchor. As a subscriber, I had heretofore been reading the Economists lone obituary on a weekly basis, and found it to be a quite pleasurable and informative experience.

A couple of hundred words can do little justice to anyones life, but it certainly can act as a springboard into more intensive historical and cultural reading endeavors. Famed quadrapalegic singer-songwriter Vic Chestnutt, ex-Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera, and burlesque pioneer/entrepreneur Alice Schiller are just a few of the fascinating characters who have passed away within the last week.

As I find it increasingly difficult to navigate the plethora of media content available and develop my daily 'must-read' blogs and new sources, I'd like to pay homage to this increasingly obscure journalistic art. Fortunately, the giants of politics, sports, business, and culture rarely go out with a proverbial 'bang' that suits mainstream news coverage, but instead do so with a whimper while surrounded by family and friends. We should recognize their incredible stories, accomplishments and contributions to the world that we live in nevertheless.

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