Sunday, December 9, 2012

What I Read: Dr. Ben Lewis

Ben Lewis
Someone who doesn't read gets about the same education as someone who can't. Where you get your information seems of vital importance to how you see the world. We are bombarded with information, and misinformation all day long. I'm fascinated by how people wade through the deluge, when and where they consume, and how they structure their work life around it. TheAtlanticWire has this wonderful series called Media Diet, that I read religiously. They focus on the reading habits of "prominent figures in media, entertainment, politics, the arts, and the literary world". I'm going to steal this idea from them, however my focus will be on prominent figures in athletics, nutrition, and health.  ~ Matt Hart

When my polymath friend and running partner Matt Hart asked me to write an entry for his series I quickly agreed to contribute to what sounded like a neat project.  Some quick accounting in the following minutes however led to some bleak conclusions: that after eight fairly intense years of medical education and now two years of fatherhood my consumption of the written word is not particularly broad nor — discounting the specific reading I do to stay current in my medical field — deep. I spend a good amount of time these days with Goodnight Moon[1]. More incriminating, I spend more than my fair share of time in bed in the evening watching Netflix on my laptop, perusing YouTube clips of Zach Galifianakis, or scanning inane running blogs while my wife is wholly immersed in some imposing looking work of modern fiction[2]. If nothing else, writing this piece (and reading other entries on Matt’s blog) will jar loose some of the rust and nourish my now atrophied and stilted brain.  

This state of affairs is not without precedent. I would estimate that until the age of 18 my predominant sources of the written word were Calvin and Hobbes, cereal boxes, and my well-worn and yellowed copy of Once a Runner[3]. An unusual preamble to becoming a literature and philosophy major but there you have it.

I’m now an inpatient psychiatrist at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute so a good portion of my reading these days centers around staying current by reading major journals in the field and papers relevant to patient care — the details of which are likely uninteresting for a wider audience. I co-teach several courses for resident physicians including a psychopathology course and a psychodynamics course and so end up doing some reading in these domains so as to have at least one or two intelligent things to say. My research interests are in the philosophy of psychiatry and I do a fair bit of reading and writing in this area — as of late focusing mainly on the application of Daniel Dennett’s work in philosophy of mind to certain questions of classification and methodology in psychiatry and in how issues of social construction come to bear on conceptualizations of mental illness (relevant books here include Consciousness Explained, The Intentional StanceSweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness, Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds, Freedom Evolves by Dennett or The Social Construction of What? and Mad Travelers by Ian Hacking).  My default interests are in philosophy so I’m generally not very far from some book or set of papers in this domain.  Currently I’m reading Free Will by Sam Harris#.

I should read more fiction.  Favorite authors include Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, Milan Kundera, Virginia Woolf, Wallace Stegner, Vladimir Nabokov.  

All things considered I’m a pretty skeptical dude and this carries over even into my professional life.  Over the last several months I’ve been on a kick of reading several recent popular press books largely critical of psychiatry and psychopharmacology as a whole: Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker, The Loss of Sadness by Jerome Wakefield, The Emperor’s New Drugs by Irving Kirsch, and Unhinged by Daniel Carlat.  While I can’t fully ascribe to all of the critical arguments put forth in these books, I find — and always have found — it important to expose oneself to a variety of positions and to be ready to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water if needs be, however threatening that prospect is.

We also subscribe to a number of magazines — the enumeration of which is likely not dissimilar to scores of other white, liberal folks with college degrees who enjoy indie rock, farmers markets, and NPR: The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Review of Books, Scientific American, and The Economist.[5]

Regular online reading I do includes the NY Times, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Huffington Post,,, The Onion, Alex Hutchinson’s blog at RunnersWorld, RunningTimes, iRunFar,, The Science of Sport,  Twitter-pated nuggets from Matt Hart, Trailrunner magazine,  www.scienceofrunning (Steve Magness’ blog), a number of familiar running blogs, VeloNews, Beer Advocate, and various and sundry Facebook status updates from estranged and unfamiliar high school classmates about what they ate for breakfast.

[1] Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
[2] We haven’t had television in over 10 years now. When confronted with discussions on pop culture TV I’ll mention this fact in an off-hand, if supercilious tone, not once acknowledging that I watched 3 back-to-back episodes of Louie on Netflix the night prior (which is hilarious and fantastic BTW).
[3] Which remains the best book on running ever written.
[4] One of my many heroes.
[5] Arranged in hierarchical order as to the proportion of the magazine read: I read The New Yorker cover to cover whereas I generally make it several sentences deep in any piece in The Economist before I am in at least Stage 3 sleep.  

Others from the Media Diet: What I Read Series

Matt Hart

Writer, Athlete, Coach


Alex Hutchinson
Runner's World Sweat Science, National Magazine Award recipient for Science Journalism

1 comment:

Peter N. Jones said...

I'm liking this series! I would also suggest reading Chalmers, Churchland and Churchland, and then getting out on the fringes and reading some stuff from journals like Anthropology of Consciousness. Dennett is too into his own theory for my tastes.