Curing the Phantom

One of the first TED talks I ever watched was 3 Clues to Understanding Your Brain, by V.S. Ramachandran. A brilliant presentation in which the neurologist addresses the issue of phantom pain. To the layman, phantom pain – the pain in a limb or organ that is not physically present – seems already an unusual thing. But Ramachandran introduces us to an even more bizarre – yet quite common – affliction: a phantom limb that is paralysed. Patients who suffer from such an invisible but painful misfortune say: ‘If only I could move my arm, the agony could be relieved!’ But how to move an arm that does not exist?

Ramachandran has found a simple and cheap method to ease the pain: a $2 mirror box. The patient looks in the mirror, sees the reflection of his real arm, but for an instant is tricked to believe it is the phantom arm. The visual input makes the patient think the phantom is moving, which allows his brain to heal itself from the painful phantom paralysis.

There is another remarkable American who likes to talk about phantoms. A former professor at the Harvard Business School, he is now a prophet for radical economic change. He spreads the word and practice through the Living Economies Forum, the YES campaign and his book Agenda for a New Economy.

David Korten speaks about Phantom Wealth. Phantom wealth is the so-called ‘value’ created in what he describes as the phantom economy, or the financial economy. According to Korten, the phantom economy was originally a part of a whole, real economy, but has developed in such a way that it is now only slightly related to products and services, nature and people in the real world. The phantom economy creates financial ‘wealth’ by self-feeding and self-fuelling its internal system of financial return on investment. Continue reading


The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Last week I travelled to England to sort out our self-storage; a big sea container just outside the town of Wellington. Until a few decades ago the site was a flourishing farm: a house, some sheds and fields of crops and cattle. It has since been turned into a little industrial estate. Today’s cash-cows are one hundred brand new shipping containers. They arrived chock-full of produce, Made in China, and are unlikely to ever ship anything back. So, bought at a bargain, the containers now hold books, clothes, tools, couches, kitchens, furnishings of offices and entire households.

While digging our goldmine of long-forgotten treasures, I unpacked one of my favourite books: Milan Kundera’s ‘The unbearable lightness of being’.

Kundera’s classic beautifully describes the human paradox of weight and lightness. We know that we are transient, on earth as human being only for a little moment in time. Part of a never-ending process of creation, participants in the enormous unfolding universe. But at the same time we long for a sense of importance, a significant role in the grand scheme of things. We wish to be visible, to be heard, read, listened to, recognized. We have a desire to shape today, the future and history. To be remembered, to show our power and possessions. We long to have weight.

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The money economy, today’s Maladie Imaginaire

Ever since its first stage performance in 1673, ‘le Malade imaginaire’ (the imaginary invalid) has been one of the most popular plays in Paris’ Comédie Française. In Molière’s classic, the hypochondriac Argan lives his life surrounded by doctors and apothecaries, summoning them to examine and treat his imaginary illnesses, while at the same time getting consumed by worries about the mounting bills for medications.

For the last three hundred years, ‘le Malade imaginaire’ has been played and re-played in theaters around the world. The story has retained its popularity across cultures and generations, as it shares an essential ingredient with all other good stories: ‘le Malade’ contains a life lesson, a snippet of wisdom intricately woven into the story, inviting the audience to listen carefully and reflect on its meaning in their own daily life. Good stories mirror us, offer an insight into our own behaviour, and strengthen our inner compass.

So what can Molière and his story on physical and mental health teach us about today’s economic environment?

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