Tuesday 26 May 2015

Religio Medici


This I confess, about seven years past, with some others of affinity thereto, for my private exercise and satisfaction, I had at leisurable hours composed; which being communicated unto one, it became common unto many, and was by transcription successively corrupted, until it arrived in a most depraved copy at the press.

He that shall peruse that work, and shall take notice of sundry particulars and personal expressions therein, will easily discern the intention was not publick: and, being a private exercise directed to myself, what is delivered therein was rather a memorial unto me, than an example or rule unto any other: and therefore, if there be any singularity therein correspondent unto the private conceptions of any man, it doth not advantage them; or if dissentaneous thereunto, it no way over- throws them.

It was penned in such a place, and with such disadvantage, that (I protest), from the first setting of pen unto paper, I had not the assistance of any good book, whereby to promote my invention, or relieve my memory; and therefore there might be many real lapses therein, which others might take notice of, and more that I suspected myself.

It was set down many years past, and was the sense of my conceptions at that time, not an immutable law unto my advancing judgment at all times; and therefore there might be many things therein plausible unto my passed apprehension, which are not agreeable unto my present self. There are many things delivered rhetorically, many expressions therein merely tropical, and as they best illustrate my intention; and therefore also there are many things to be taken in a soft and flexible sense, and not to be called unto the rigid test of reason.

Lastly, all that is contained therein is in submission unto maturer discernments; and, as I have declared, shall no further father them than the best and learned judgments shall authorize them: under favour of which considerations, I have made its secrecy publick, and committed the truth thereof to every ingenuous reader.



What a delicious prose style - and especially that expression, which might be taken as a plea from all daily bloggers, and indeed all those whose ideas change, evolve, over time:

There are many things delivered rhetorically, many expressions therein merely tropical, and as they best illustrate my intention; and therefore also there are many things to be taken in a soft and flexible sense, and not to be called unto the rigid test of reason.

I am, of course, myself, a doctor - so this blog is a Religio Medici; but it is long since I was employed  to treat patients. Indeed, I practiced full time for only two years. I left clinical medicine for many reasons, including insufficient stamina as a major one - but one reason was that I could never be clear why I was keeping people alive, and what I was keeping people alive for.

Therefore I moved into research, and then into English Literature and Philosophy, under the idea that Art or Philosophy might justify life, and clarify what it was all for.

They never did; and it was not until many years later, and indeed just the past few years, that I understood what it was all about - and therefore how, potentially, medicine might properly be practiced.

Because, without a knowledge (or intuition) of the purpose of Life, nothing can be done well - certainly not medicine, which becomes merely a kicking the can further down the road (extending life, a bit) in hope that somewhere down the line somebody will work out why...

More on Thos. Browne at: http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=religio


Nicholas Fulford said...

Why in the great sense is not answerable without error and projection. If a man wants a mirror wherein to gaze upon that part of self, then "why" is the question that consumes him. It is not a terribly useful question in my experience. I usually asked it in a defiant fists towards the sky shout as a youth. As an older man I do not have the time to waste with it, as it just left me in the same angst filled state as led me to the point of asking. In other words, life is too short for such things, especially when I am aware that death is much closer than it was when I was 25.

Better to ask "what", as in, "What is the way to live which is best for a man - this man as well as all men?" This question at least leads someplace, and offers a pathway out of the absurdity and towards meaning.

I haven't found the best answer, and that is not terribly surprising, but I have found that the search if partaken with vigour, courage, and honesty will yield some modicum of satisfaction and meaning, and perhaps may shine some light into previously occluded spaces. At worst it is a reasonable way to fill the time between the bookends of infinity that delimit this brief span which is mine to live.

Beauty is something which captivates my attention, but not as an object to hold but as an emergent and perennial form that causes me to smile. Yes, all particular expressions of beauty fade, but beauty itself is constantly flowering. Beauty inspires love and appreciation - provide I do not fall into the trap of trying to possess it. Sharing beauty - teaching and demonstrating how to see it, are important to me. I would make my life an opal with swirls of colour that draws the viewer into reflection upon the mystery of existence. I would be a broken shard of ice in summer sun, which in melting dances light across the spectrum with rhythmic pulses - dancing joy. There is time enough for sorrow which itself is a veil to penetrate and appreciate. Sorrow that parts the veils - which circumcises the outer foreskin of life to reveal is its own form of beauty. It is that I love about Mahler, and especially the last movement of his 10th symphony - realized by Cooke.

There is nothing I can possess, but I can dance with passion, and through it experience life as fully as is possible.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - There are some questions which demand an answer, and will not go away, and trying to distract oneself by absorption (even in art/ beauty) somehow makes it worse. I did not choose to be concerned by why questions, but it was unavoidable. I was seeking for about 35 years. But I did eventually find the answer, or allow myself to recognize the answer having cleared away some false assumptions - and am very grateful I did.