Trying to do too much – lessons from the Life Study, the Trappists and David Mamet

Here is a post on my other blog “A Medical Education” inspired by a passage in Helen Pearson’s “The Life Project”, which I reviewed in the TLS.

An understandable tendency to include as much potentially useful information as possible seemed to have created massive, and ultimately unworkable cohorts. The Life Study would have generated vast data sets: “80,000 babies, warehouses of stool samples of placentas, gigabytes of video clips, several hundred thousand questionnaires and much more” (the history of the 1982 study repeated itself, perhaps.) Then there is the recruitment issue. Pregnant women volunteering for the Life Study would “travel to special recruitment centres set up for the study and then spend two hours there, answering questions and giving their samples of urine and blood.” Perhaps the surprise is that 249 pregnant women actually did volunteer for this.

This passage has come back to me. Aside from the methodological issue of study design, there is a wider issue of trying to do too much of a (seemingly) good thing.

I am brought back to another brief snatch of a book I have stolen for a post, from “The Monks of Tibhirine” by John W Kiser:

I also began to better understand why my exposure to the Trappist culture had a certain resonance for me. Simplicity is one reason. Doing less, not more, and doing those fewer things more intensely, are values in perpetual struggle in a world that is always offering more – more activities, more choices, more means of communication, things that distract and require decisions. Trappists have stripped their lives down to a simple triad of prayer, study and manual labour. They have made only one decision: to love and praise God in the  Trappist way.

And, a more recent post here featuring the holiday thoughts of David Mamet:

I thought: we are an Urban people, and the Urban solution to most any problem is to do more: to find something new to eat in order to lose weight; to add a sound in order to relax, to upgrade your living arrangements in order to be comfortable, to buy more, to eat more, to do more business

 

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