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IT HAS BEEN SAID ORIGINAL APHORISMS by THOMAS McKEOWN* Every great writer is an obsessional; every great orator is an hysteric. Few men are so unbalanced as to be both. The original are praised for what they have done and cursed for what they propose to do. All progress requires a compromise between the ineffectual and the immoral. We should ask, not whether a man is honest, but whether he is likely to remain so within the limits of temptation to which he is ordinarily exposed. We can be grateful diat of the three main events of life—birth, marriage, and death—two are celebrated without embarrassment to the chief participants. To be happy one does not need to be doing anything, but one does need to have something one ought to be doing. When drinking we should subdue but not annihilate the cerebral cortex, leaving always enough of that uncomfortable organ to make us aware how much happier we are without it. At six o'clock at night around the world the parable of the Garden of Eden is reenacted in reverse, as with the help of a little alcohol we blur the distinction between good and evil. For the baboon, the addition of a few cells to the cerebral cortex would scarcely compensate for the loss of a coloured backside. Material appearing under this title is collected with the aim of making the serious a bit less serious, the ponderous a bit less heavy, and the reading hours a bit more fun. Toward this goal we invite a guest editor of this feature for each issue. Will readers volunteer to share their senses of humor by collecting or recollecting items that have brought smiles to their faces? We invite your participation. ?Department of Social Medicine, The Medical School, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TJ, England. 396 Thomas McKeown ¦ It Has Been Said How are you feeling? We ask this question as lightly as we enquire about the price of a dozen eggs and reply to it with a solemnity appropriate to a major crisis in the affairs of state. Wine experts are of two kinds, gastronomic and intellectual, distinguishable according to whether on sight of the bottle they reach for their glass or for their glasses. Those who cannot respond to Puccini lack something, but whether a musical gene or a gonad would be difficult to say. There are two phases in the life of a professor, the dynamic and the prostatic. A psychiatrist is one who attempts to solve intellectually for others problems on which he has failed emotionally for himself. Our habits commonly begin as pleasures of which we have no need and end as necessities in which we have no pleasure. The mind leads where the heart follows; but slowly, and not all the way. The cultural anthropologist counts the chieftain's wives; the missionary tries to persuade him to reduce their number. There is no doubt which has the more instructive occupation. One can imagine Dr. Johnson's reply if he had been told about the molecular basis of inheritance: It is certainly of interest that a minor change in the configuration of a protein is necessary for the appearance of a major poet, but it is the poetry rather than the chemistry that I find remarkable. In science, as a result of some unfortunate error in celestial casting, the ablest people are assigned to the easiest problems. In the law, as in statistics, the approach is different according to whether the aim is to be right or not to be wrong. Men can often work in harmony until they begin to discuss the principles on which their actions are based. No stage of life is intolerable, only the thought of the next. The failures of the successful are soon forgotten, as are also the successes of those who fail. The schizophrenic who says that he is king is not boasting, but the king who reveals his identity probably is. If one of the higher primates could speak for the earth's creatures he might Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Spring 1981 397 say: It is bad enough that man should exploit the rest of us...


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