HappinessException [Weekly Head Voices #44]

Just slightly before this week is over, here’s a super quick WHV looking back on last week, #13 of the year 2011. Let’s start the show with this delightful body-motion-art music video, brought to my attention by the intriguing TNR:

The most noteworthy items of my week were the following:

  • The VisWeek 2011 deadline, together with EuroVis our most important yearly paper deadline, smashed through our lives on Thursday. I had the distinct privilege of participating in two excellent submissions, and once again came to the realisation that I absolutely love writing papers, even when chasing deadlines as serious as this. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s quite the kick crafting that perfect gooseflesh-inducing sentence. Now cross yer fingers that both of these get accepted!
  • I attended the early retirement party of one of my group’s professors. He gave a superbly humorous talk, amongst other topics on the changing culture at my employer (issue #1: Too Much Management and related to that issue #2: Research Institute Thinks it Should Act Like a Commercial Entity and Predictably Does So Embarrassingly Badly). This, as well as his compressed review of 30 years of academia, constituted serious food for thought.
  • On Saturday I had the privilege of giving a talk, in Dutch (!!), to an audience of more than 200 clinical physicists at the yearly conference of the Dutch Society of Clinical Physics.  I presented an overview of our surgical planning and guidance research, including the absolute latest results of the VisCAS survey that we’re working on (when I say “we”, I of course mean that one of my MedVis Ninjas is doing most of the hard work). If you’re also lucky enough to find yourself in Bergen, Norway for EuroVis 2011 in May/June, you’ll even be able to come and admire our poster on the topic!

For my truly backyard philosophical conclusion, I’d like to refer to an interesting piece in this weekend’s Volkskrant on Pascal Bruckner, a real-deal non-backyard philosopher, and his refreshing view on our eternal quest for happiness. Bruckner makes the point that happiness used to be the exception, implying that then it was already quite an achievement just being able to survive.

These days, because we have access to infinite amounts of fat and sugar, and other important foodstuffs such as beer, and our survival has become almost a given, we have come to believe that it is our duty to be happy. Even worse than that, we have come to expect it of each other, finding it strange when someone is temporarily not in the throes of passion or happiness. Paradoxically, or maybe not, this expectation leads to much unhappiness, or as Bruckner puts it, the more we have, the more discontent we get.

Being French and a philosopher, he makes use of his unique prerogative by concluding with a quote by Voltaire from Candide:

l’homme est né pour vivre dans les convulsions de l’inquiétude ou dans la lethargie de l’ennui.

(go look it up on Google Translate, you have-it-all human! don’t forget to leave a comment on this blog.)