Saturday, December 10, 2016

Specialism & Neurology: Generalism & Integration!

After my recent visit to Vietnam a book I have been looking forward to became available, and what a read.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam © 2016 Am Ang Zhang
"......It was only in the late 1970s that the power of this integrative idol manifested. It was a period, historian Paul Forman has observed, that began embracing a culture that worshiped technology, multidisciplinarity, and entrepreneurialism. At precisely this moment of cultural conjuncture, at the moment when neuropharmacology, scanning technologies, and biomolecular science also began to give very real shape to neuroscience and neurobiology and began as well to vest neurology with wholly new understandings of the nerves in sickness and in health, neuroculture began to reframe human self-understanding. ‘The fundamental justification’, as authors of a report for the US National Academy of Sciences for Manpower in Basic Neurologic and Communicative Sciences put it, ‘is that basic insights into neuroscience constitute one of the major scientific achievements of contemporary civilization. Neurology’s long legacy of definitional ambiguity, the propensity of its practitioners for generality, their obvious interests in psychiatry and physiology, and their long history of engaging evolutionary theory had thus served up the feast of arguments, tropes, and rhetorical devices that would feed the appetites of the ‘cerebral subject’ and the Huxlian ‘neurochemical self ’.74
In short, after the Second World War, people figuratively became their brains. They dreamed of and then manufactured extended minds. They used neuroscience to question personhood, behavioural economics, animal-hood, gender, diversity, and even to recast ‘man as machine metaphors’ into new forms. Mind became a digital product of matter; the brain became a computer; the nerves – picking up on an old refrain – became cyber-networks. Snails made manifest the mechanisms of memory. Florescent proteins embedded addiction into the reductive substance of the cell membrane. The brain became a cultural refrain. And many educated people believed it, and many uneducated and young people practised reiterating it. The brain was its own justification. It was civilisation.
Any number of figures in the history of science and medicine could be claimed to have constructed this neurologic metanarrative. Given its claims to historical transcendence, it is easy to imagine as well that any number of figures could be reconstructed in hindsight as the heroes who constructed this new cultural understanding. Yet it was the neurologists who made this world. Indeed, it was the Jacksonian ideal that would ultimately underpin the emergent logic of neuroculture. It was the neurologists, among the physicians, who were most ‘fully engaged in the philosophical status of man’.75 And while that story was not solely a British one, it was nevertheless the British neurologists who resisted the inexorable trends of rational modernity, of progressive administration, and who held on to the promise of generality and catholicity, and defended a world of Newtons and Darwins and a tradition of Jacksons and Sherringtons against a world of normal science and its would-be tradition of scriveners.
What then was the ‘neuro’ in neurology as the British neurologists understood it? If it was a tradition of generalism and integration, and hero worship too, then it was also a powerful and transformative cultural discourse. It was one that borrowed heavily from artistic and literary currents even as it transformed those movements. It was a discourse that saw in the action of disease a new understanding of the living subject, being, and knowing. It drew heavily upon evolutionary theory. And it eventually reforged the essence of humanity into a story of gene regulation, neurotransmitters, membrane physiology, nerve impulses and synaptic transmission. Accordingly sleep, pleasure, pain, memory, language, even fighting and fleeing, became the stuff of central nervous system organisation and limbic systems. It was, in other words, a particular strand of British neurology that provided neuroculture with its essential shape, integrative social structure, and, alas, also laid the foundations for the now-emergent hegemony of the brain and nerves......"                  Stephen T. Casper
© 2016 Am Ang Zhang
Museum of Science, Boston.
"....While Leonardo da Vinci is best known as an artist, his work as a scientist and an inventor make him a true Renaissance man. He serves as a role model applying the scientific method to every aspect of life, including art and music. Although he is best known for his dramatic and expressive artwork, Leonardo also conducted dozens of carefully thought out experiments and created futuristic inventions that were groundbreaking for the time.

His keen eye and quick mind led him to make important scientific discoveries, yet he never published his ideas. He was a vegetarian who loved animals and despised war, yet he worked as a military engineer to invent advanced and deadly weapons. He was one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance, yet he left only a handful of completed paintings...."

Nobel Laureate: Eric Kandel’s recent book The Age of Insight.

"....In many respects, The Age of Insight imitates those famous Viennese salons, in which artists, scientists and doctors exchanged ideas and gave birth to a new way of thinking about the mind."  Wired

The current Dean of my Medical School is a Conductor as well:

"....As an educator, his pedagogical philosophy of a renaissance education for all young people, with music as a medium to develop intellectual, social and emotional qualities have won praises from students and parents alike."

I have no doubt in my mind that doctors and scientists should embrace art to become better doctors and scientists.

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