light in my life

“In our acquisition of knowledge of the Universe (whether mathematical or otherwise) that which renovates the quest is nothing more nor less than complete innocence. It is in this state of complete innocence that we receive everything from the moment of our birth. Although so often the object of our contempt and of our private fears, it is always in us. It alone can unite humility with boldness so as to allow us to penetrate to the heart of things, or allow things to enter us and taken possession of us.

This unique power is in no way a privilege given to ‘exceptional talents’ – persons of incredible brain power (for example), who are better able to manipulate, with dexterity and ease, an enormous mass of data, ideas and specialized skills. Such gifts are undeniably valuable, and certainly worthy of envy from those who (like myself) were not so ‘endowed at birth, far beyond the ordinary’.

Yet it is not these gifts, nor the most determined ambition combined with irresistible will-power, that enables one to surmount the ‘invisible yet formidable boundaries’ that encircle our universe. Only innocence can surmount them, which mere knowledge doesn’t even take into account, in those moments when we find ourselves able to listen to things, totally and intensely absorbed in child’s play.”

— Alexander Grothendieck

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

I started to read When Breath Becomes Air after Krishna Shenoy’s passing. When I was obssessed with brain-computer interfaces, I always found the work from his lab inspiring and exciting. Krishna was a brilliant mentor, scientist and engineer. He is that person I want to be. Paul was a resident at Krishna’s lab, as he said,

“One could count on V to always choose the honest (and, often, self-effacing) way forward. While most scientists connived to publish in the most prestigious journals and get their names out there, V maintained that our only obligation was to be authentic to the scientific story and to tell it uncompromisingly.”

At the beginning I wanted to learn about Krishna’s stories from his book, but then I was deeply touched by Paul’s stories. Paul described his experience after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in his thirties. His pursuit of the meaning of life, his belief in the value of literature, and his realistic idealism deeply resonate with me.

“I was driven less by achievement than by trying to understand, in earnest: What makes human life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain.”

Paul couldn’t finish the book. His wife Lucy wrote the last chapter for him, from which I saw the positive meaning of death.

“Although these last few years have been wrenching and difficult—sometimes almost impossible—they have also been the most beautiful and profound of my life, requiring the daily act of holding life and death, joy and pain in balance and exploring new depths of gratitude and love.”

I become more determined and fearless to continue Krishna’s, Paul’s, and many others’ pursuit of a fundamental understanding of neuroscience, and the meaning of life.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Sooner or later, we all have to learn how to say goodbye to our loved ones.

The Worlds I See by Fei-Fei Li

Fei Fei’s personal journey made me believe once more how far curiosity can lead one to explore.

Projections by Karl Deisseroth

Known as the inventor of optogenetics, Karl described his personal stories with psychiatric patients in poetic language. It reminds me that what I am working with every day are not just data points, but unique individuals with their struggles.

On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins

A Thousand Brains by Jeff Hawkins

Analog VLSI and Neural Systems by Carver Mead

“The viewpoint described in this book is the result of my conviction that the nervous system of even a very simple animal contains computing paradigms that are orders of magnitude more effective than are those found in systems made by humans.”

To me, the opening line of the book sounds like an undeniable fact, an unsolved mystery, and one of the most challenging missions in the post Moore’s law era. As a pioneer of neuromorphic computing, Carver explained the connections between neural circuits and electrical circuits, and described his attempts to develop computationally efficient VLSI inspired by the organizing principles of neural systems.

Principles of Neural Design by Peter Sterling and Simon Laughlin

Principles of neural design to shed light on how brains use space and power efficiently.

Vision by David Marr

Creative and comprehensive work to understand visual perception.

You and Your Research by Richard Hamming

The Feynman Lectures on Physics