Read more books, live a longer life

Reading good books enriches our lifes. We can share experiences of others, sometimes romantic, sometimes painful, and by spending a few days to read a novel we can jump in other times, in another society and in another personality. Reading books is really a good investment of the short time that is given us in life. But now a new study from Yale University shows that we not only gain knowledge and wisdom from reading fiction books, but that it can directly extend our physical life time.

The study, which is published in the September issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine, looked at the reading patterns of 3,635 people who were 50 or older. On average, book readers were found to live for almost two years longer than non-readers. “When readers were compared to non-readers at 80% mortality (the time it takes 20% of a group to die), non-book readers lived 85 months (7.08 years), whereas book readers lived 108 months (9.00 years) after baseline,” write the researchers. “Thus, reading books provided a 23-month survival advantage.” The paper also specifically links the reading of books, rather than periodicals, to a longer life. “We found that reading books provided a greater benefit than reading newspapers or magazines. We uncovered that this effect is likely because books engage the reader’s mind more – providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the lifespan,” the authors concluded.

Books

Although I like the result of this study a lot, and I intuitively strongly believe in their conclusion, from a methodological point of view it suffers from the same shortcommings as many other retrospective social studies. The studies usually analyse questionaires they receive from randomly picked individuals. No doubt, analysing 3, 635 peoples health status and their reading behaviour is a vast amount of work and an association found between the reading habits and health status will be significantly and reproducible.

But what remains to be shown is the causality. I.e. can I increase my life expectancy (or this of my children) if I or if we force ourself to read more books ? And this is not clear, and the Yale study also has no answer to this. In epidemiology there is this well-known phenomenon of “reverse causation”, which in the current studies could also underly the reported association. If one assume that any genetic or epigenetic factor (or a combination of those) improves a persons health status in general (including mental health, but also neuro-sensory fitness such as eye vision), this will independently lead to an incraesed longevity but at the same time also to a higher prefenrence to enrich ones life by reading good books. So these two outcomes of a questionaire, health status/life expectancy and frequency of reading books will automaticly be linked, cause they are influenced strongly by the same underlying inherent factors (genetic composition and epigenetic praegung). So they are clearly linked to each other, but not causing each other.

The only solid prove of a causation of book reading and longevity would be a so-called randomized study (as they are state-of-the-art in clinical trials to test the therapeutic effect of new drug or method). Here, a large number of volunteers have to be recruited, and they assigned to a control and a test group randomly. And these two groups have to follow a defined protocol, whether they liek it or not. The control group should not read books (even if some group members are real book freaks), whereas the members of the test group all should read a defined minimal numbers of books (per month) whether they like books or not. And this study has to be followed over years or decades, of course. One could then do a simple non-parametric test (like Man-Whitney or Wilcoxon) for the attained age at death and could easily found if an intentional increase in book reading helps to extend life span.

I am happy to notice that for me this problem does not exist, since I like to read books quite naturally. Assuming that I am not hampered by other life-shortening factors (such as working as a roof-layer or on a oil-platform or smoking or drinking extensively) I know that I fell in the group of 23 month longer than average live span, whether it is caused by my love to read books or by another congenital factor.

Twenty-three month is really a lot, sondiering that I have already gained 19 extra month by living with our dog Ivo, another 37 month by having a higher education, and another 16 month by living in a stable partnership. Whow, so much extra time, I have to think of how to spend it useful.

I first will read more books, I think. I have recently discovered Gaito Gasdanov, a contemporary writer of Vladimir Nabokov with a great classical writing style. I bought for the coming holiday season:

An Evening with Clair

“The Return of the Buddha “

The Spectr of Alexander Wolf

Social media desaster at Munich rampage

Friday at 5:50 pm Munich fell into a state of chaos after an 18 years old started a shooting orgy at McDonalds Olympia shopping center. He killed 9 innocent people, mainly other teenagers, among them 7 of non-German origin.

It appeared that the gunman (Ali or David Sunboly), born here in Munich as son of Iranian parents was suffering of depression. Police records also indicate that he has been mobbed by his peers and experienced physical violence by other youngsters on several occasions. It is said that he purchased the gun, a 9mm Glock, via the dark net. The weapon had been re-assembled from a defunct one as they are frequently used for theater performances or in the film industry.

The social media failed completely in providing any useful information during the 3-4 hours of the event. More and more shooting cases were erroneously reported from other parts of the city, therefore causing more and more confusion and hysteria on the streets. And instead of circulating essential and useful information of how to find a safe shelter and how to help other people, the social media were overflowed with messages full of speculations of a political, usually an islamistic background. This lead people belive what they all were expecting anyway:  that at the end Germany could be struck by ISIS led terror the same way as Paris. But nothing of all this was true. At the end it appeared that the rampage had more in common  with the Columbine school shootings than with the Boston marathon bombings or the Orlando nightclub shooting. The Munich gunman had not got a political agenda at all, but was seeking revenge for being victimized over years. It is now thought he targeted youngsters of “Turkish and Arab” origin, having claimed those groups had picked on him in school.

munich Shooting

Ali (David) Sonboly, the teenage boy who shot dead 9 people in Munich,and friends and relatives commemorating the victims.

It was only a few weeks before that I had discovered the function of Twitter, when during the 2016 ESC awards and later at the Brexit votum people on a Europe wide scale quickly exchanged their thoughts and comments. In both cases, however instant informaton was mainly a tool for infotainement. But on Friday, electronic information had an essential function for guiding people away from the danger. And here the social media failed completely.

When I called Marina at 6:40 pm, i.e. 50 min after the shooting had started, she was riding in the train through the city center, without knowing anything. For some reasons all public transport (subway, busses, tram) had been stopped right away, apart from trains which were still operating without informing the passengers.

There were thousands of police man and woman, including special riot squads (SEK, GSG 9, austrian Cobra) heading towards Munich city center, because the initial reports mentioned three gunman with automated attack rifles (what was also first communicated via Twitter/Facebook/Whatsapp). At the end it was a single suicide attacker with a 9mm gun, who killed himself 30 min after starting the shooting.

A selfmade video from a tennant nearby the site of the shooting was released the same day. It documents the loud shouting match between the shooter, who was pacing on the top floor of a nearby parking garage, and Thomas Selby, 57, a truck driver who was looking at him from the balcony of his appartment.

Their calls back and forth, including a third person who joined in, are translated here from the German transcript (including explicit words):

Neighbor: “You’re the son of a bitch”

Shooter: “Yes, because of people like you have harassed me for seven years.”

Neighbor: “You’re a son of a damned bitch.”

Shooter: “And now I have to buy a gun in order to shoot you.”

Neighbor: “A gun?  Go fuck yourself, bloody foreigner.”

Shooter: “I’m a German.”

Neighbor: “You’re a son of a bitch,  that’s what you are.”

Shooter: “Stop taking pictures of me.”

Neighbor: “You stupid alien asshole, what are you doing here?”

Shooter: “I was born here.”

Third voice: “shit foreigners.”

Neighbor: “What the hell do you think you’re doing.”

Shooter: “I grew up here in Hartz IV (a social welfare scheme).”

Neighbor: “You’re a son of a bitch, I told you.”

Shooter: “You’re right, you’re right, you’re right.”

Brexiteers and Arsonists

I don’t understand all the emotions around the Brexit. O.k., here we have two or three british politicians, who (as a good and lovely tradition) consider their job as sports activity (well, honestly it is fairly badly paid for this).

So they obviously had a bet (like this one: “What do I get when I ask this marvellous lady for a date ?”), while playing politics in real, not in an Oxford debating society. So everybody was surprised when the marvellous lady agreed to have a date with them late at night in a hotel room. No wonder, now when it gets serious, the three caballeros all lost their courage. How to get out of the trouble, what to tell the lady without upsetting her to much. And what to tell the brave wife at home (aka the EU fellows), where they have been the whole night through ?

The natural solution (with nobody losing its face) would be to call for a early snap election for the house of commons.

If Labour and the LDP are supporting Remain (and blame the Brexit torries and UKIP for putting Scotland at risk), than they will either win (at least in a coalition) or they put the torries so much under pressure that they have to support the Remain as well.

And Now: Something completely stupid

The daily culture program 3Sat Kulturzeit did a nice orbituary for the Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami.

At the end the programs speaker Cécile Schortmann (picture below) tried to make an intelligent jump to the next report (about cinema in Lebanon) my saying “… and now jumping to another arab country ….”.  If Abbas Kiarostami would have heared this …..

https://www.3sat.de/imperia/md/images/_standrad/moderatoren_2009/schortmann_n_481.jpg

Boolean algebra of love

Elie Wiesel, the philosopher, writer, holocaust survivor, died yesterday at the age of 87. But he should also be remembered as as contributor to the boolean algebra of love. He discovered that

“The opposite of love is not hate, but ignorance”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judgement Day 2.0

All monotheistic religions have in their mythology the concept of a final judgement. Christians call it “Judgement Day”, Jews call it “יום הדין”,  Arabs call it  “یوم القیامۃ”, Persians call it “روز حساب”, and the ancient Archemenids in Iran also had a name for it but I don’t have the cuniform characters installed here.

The question for an atheist like me is always: shall I care about these fairy-tales of a life after death, in which my future postal address (a gated community in paradise or a bizarre existence in sin city) will be decided by a reviewing committee chaired by St. Peter ? I would say no. If I believe in a life after physical death, than it will be rather by cloning myself from my own iPS cells (which I have already stored in some tubes in my institutes liquid nitrogen tank) plus a complete 1:1 copy of my brain connectivity (to bring back all my memories, skills and personal characters).  So I can say with some optimism: We are working on this issue. Therefore, there is no need to wait for a Final Judgement Day, and I would not like to stand in a queue with millions of religious hypocrites, from which ever faith, who are arguing with the frustrated judge and trying to prove that their lifelong martyrdom, self punishment or fight against other faiths should entitle them to a first class appartment in heaven.  This idea either amuses or frightens me.

Michelangelo_Jugement_Day1

“Judgement Day” by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Sistine Chapel, Rom

There is one idea of the Judgement Day, however, that reads really appealing and logical to me, and I am all to happy to believe in it. It is part of the Jewish mythology, where an important parameter of the judgement is to what degree a person exploited all the possibility in life to enjoy the world. This is really important, as compared to the stupid way of judging ones compliances with the religious dogmas. Finding a challenging job, having good sex, raising children, playing music, reading great books, entertaining other folks: little of this might count important for what the religious clerks always tell people is the Final Judgement. But in reality, it is the most relevant for a non-mythological life after death.

Rain drops on lips

In New York it is still The 24th of May, and hence still on time to commemorate Bob Dylans birthday. I had to think about his song “A Hard Rain’s gonna fall” today, when somebody at our institute told me about the soon beginning of the muslim Ramadan. This year it will be right in the middle of summertime, and I can not imagine how one can live and work more than 12 hours in the summer heat with no drinking.
But maybe a relief could come from heaven itself. If during Ramadan a summer rain starts, and one believes in a higher deity, than he/she can assume that this rain is send by God, right ? So is it o.k. than to lick the rain drops from ones lips ? I mean from ones owns lips !!  Maybe I should ask somebody of the large Arab carawanes, for whom Munich serves as a summer camp, with medical treatments and endless shoping facilities. Could it be that they like to come here during Ramadan, for the high chance to get some rain in June or July, and liking the raindrops from their lips ?

Summer Nuisance

A reply to “High on Words: London Spring

Seems there is little chance to escape the nuisance of spring. and don’t excpect any relief when summer comes. I remember a day in August, hoping to find some tranquility in Richmond Park. But soon I felt annoyed by a strang clapping sound, as if millions of elves were beating the dust off their tiny bedside rugs. The real cause, however, was much more secular: It appeared that thousands of butterflies (perhaps from Spain or Italy, who cares) made this noise with their blue wings.

https://i2.wp.com/www.webexhibits.org/causesofcolor/images/content/blueMorphoZ.jpg

I think there should be an ammendement written to the Rules for Richmond Park Visitors: “Butterflies are kindly ask to avoid any intense clapping sound with their wings between 1 and 6 p.m.”

Lars, my friend …

I know that there is nobody on Lars Gustafssons blog any more to edit the comments.  I am extremely sad that one of the greatest literature spirits of our modern world had passed away. It is just a week ago that I had such a nice time when I found your latest novel “Dr. Waters recepie” in the book shop.  We will desperately miss your wonderful words, your phantasy that explained to us the mysteries of the world a little bit better.

 

Portrait of the Artist

 

 

 

Dead white Rose

It was always clear that Axl Rose was nothing but a poser (in his youth). With his skinny, bony, sweaty body barely covered in filthy XXXL underwear, he might have managed to frighten some audience, so they just overheared his creepy voice. Now with all the signs of an aged, worn out body, he is simply making a fool of himself by trying to practice the same old habits on stage like he did 20 years ago. Soon he will join the Zombie faction of dead white males.

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