How a Physicist Helped Create a Psychiatrist

I was anxious as an adolescent. I was 15 years old and had no idea what I was going to become in the future. In truth, I had some suspicions, but these were dreams and did not seem likely to come to fruition, ever. Moreover, my older brother, 2 1/2 years my elder, was already an accomplished scientist, as it were. He had spent many years learning chemistry on his own, and  had already taught chemistry to his high school class as a kind of adjunct teacher on weekends. His career path was already in cement. I, on the other hand ,had no future guideposts to speak of.

One particularly anxious evening, I went to see my brother in his garret bedroom. He and I were quite close throughout our childhood. I looked to my older brother as a teacher and as a guide. I shared with him my angst over a future I could not begin to discern. He listened supportively, but said little until I was done with my catharsis. He then made a recommendation which has served as a guidepost to me for the remainder of my life and my career. Indeed, his statement became the final input which led me to take a psychiatric path. My brother, now and for many years a theoretical physicist, has no recollection whatever of having made this proclamation or even of having thought it. Still, the statement and the lessons I learned from it forged an understanding of my life  and my place in the world.

Ephraim did not comment on my anxiety at all. Instead, he advised me as follows: "Marnin: I want you to think of your life like it is a great novel: just sit back and be curious with on the next page."

We did not much discuss what he meant when he said this to me, but it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. I have pondered that statement for years to come. I found myself deriving important understandings from his words.

The first lesson was the realization that we are not fully in control of our lives or our futures. There are inevitably going to be many forces which impact our lives and over which we have little or no control. There will be personalities who will impact us, relatives who influence us, friends who do good and bad things to us, international events, national events, war, illness in ourselves and our close ones, to name only a few of the many external factors we will,willy-nilly, be subject to. A corollary of this lesson, though not one stemming explicitly from my brother's wisdom, is the need to develop what is now called resilience, the capacity to roll with the punches, to make lemonade out of lemons, to keep our heads above water no matter what, if we are going to cope adequately with these "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

A second understanding, and one directly implied by his statement, is that life is intrinsically interesting. Ups and downs will indeed occur inevitably, but these can be fascinating and educational as well as, at times, painful. All of it amounts to a novel which any great author would wish to pen. Every life is its own unique, fascinating, gripping story. We should reflect on others' stories as well as on our own, for both stimulation and for personal enrichment.

Thirdly, and perhaps most meaningfully, is the final implication and derivative from this lesson my brother kindly offered me. For the ability to stand back and watch my life unfold in front of me implies that there is a "me" that is different from my "life." The latter amounts to the sum total of my experiences, how I participate in those, my reactions and emotions, and the many forces which impinge upon me from the outside. But if I am able to "stand back and look at my life as if it is a great novel," then there must be a "me" inside which is able to do so, and which is distinctly separate from my "life". Ephraim's wisdom helped me derive the realization that there is a self inside of me which no life event or force can take away or destroy. It is the me comprising the sum total of my unique experiences, emotions, temperaments, my education, my understandings of the world and other people, my values, my preferences and dislikes. I later came  to understand that another major part of this "me" is my unique inborn brain and how it functions autonomously to unconsciously process the many external and internal factors which impinge upon it. This combination of subparts of "me" is unique to myself and cannot be replicated or destroyed. Only death can do that, and even in death that self will live on in part in part in my surviving loved ones.

Finally, as I later pondered the intense effects this one statement had on me, I also learned a bit about the adolescent brain, and how hungry it is, developmentally, to seek and incorporate guidance and mentorship from those they admire..

Thank you, my physicist brother.



  1. Seeing and hearing of near death experiences as a critical care nurse: at least 4 times I was told the patient was in the room watching us do cpr on them. Perhaps: when we die the "me" inside of the body lives on. I will send you a youtube with neuropsychiatrists discussing this current dilemma. The theory is the mind lives after the body dies. Is There Life After Death? moderated by John Cleese - 2018 Tom Tom Festival (The University of Va Division of Studies research). Respectfully, Holly

  2. Nice detail. Thanks for sharing informative blog with us. Get more details about mental disorder problems. click on Psychiatrists in Punjab


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