The humanities are the hormones by MohmedShowekh


									The humanities are the hormones
Marvin J. Stone, MD

             illiam Osler was the first physician elected president
             of the British Classical Association. In his inaugural
             address at Oxford on May 16, 1919, Osler spoke
             about “The Old Humanities and the New Science”
(1). His wife, Grace, said at that time: “Never has Oxford been
more wonderful—never. Everything is in bloom. The streets and
parks, to say nothing of the town and river, look as though Nature
has gone mad” (Figure 1). Classics professors and teachers from
all over England had come to Oxford for the meeting (2).
     Typically, Osler organized displays of ancient scientific in-
struments and books for this special event (Figure 2). The book
section included 20 items from his own collection, the Bibliotheca
Prima (3). Works by Plato, Hippocrates, Aristotle, Galen, Vesalius,
Galileo, Harvey, Descartes, and Newton were exhibited (4).
Osler’s longtime Johns Hopkins colleague, William Welch, was

                                                                      Figure 2. Osler showing one of his medical classics at the meeting of the
                                                                      British Classical Association in Oxford. Reprinted with permission from the William
                                                                      Osler Photo Collection, Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University,
                                                                      Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

                                                                      present at the address (4). Osler told Welch he had never given so
                                                                      much thought to the preparation of a speech as he had to this one.
                                                                      The occasion turned out to be the last time Welch saw Osler.
                                                                          Despite his credentials as a classical as well as a scientific
                                                                      scholar, Osler characterized himself as an amateur addressing a
                                                                      body of experts. Early in the address, he remarked, “In a life of
                                                                      teaching and practice, a mere picker-up of learning’s crumbs is
                                                                      made to realize the value of the humanities in science not less
                                                                      than in general culture.” Still reeling from the loss of his only

                                                                      From the Departments of Oncology and Internal Medicine, Baylor Charles A.
                                                                      Sammons Cancer Center and Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.
                                                                      Presented in part at the 39th annual meeting of the American Osler Society,
                                                                      Cleveland, Ohio, 2009.
                                                                      Corresponding author: Marvin J. Stone, MD, Departments of Oncology and
                                                                      Internal Medicine, Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center, Baylor University
                                                                      Medical Center at Dallas, 3500 Gaston Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75246 (e-mail:
Figure 1. Spring in Oxford.                                 

Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent) 2011;24(1):17–20                                                                                                            17
Figure 3. Revere Osler, 1915. Reprinted with permission from the William Osler
Photo Collection, Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University,   Figure 5. Flanders fields.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
                                                                                      In Flanders fields the poppies blow
son in the recent World War (Figure 3), Osler spoke about                             Between the crosses, row on row. . . . (Figure 5) (6)
the barbarism and destruction that had occurred, predicting
that “there must be a very different civilization or there will be                    After dealing with the terrible consequences of war, Osler
no civilization at all”(Figure 4). Revere Osler had been fatally                 turned to the humanities. He focused his attention on hor-
wounded in Belgium on August 29, 1917 (5) and was buried                         mones, the “essential lubricators of the body,” and told his au-
in Flanders, a place immortalized by Lt. Col. John McCrae in                     dience, “The men of your guild secrete materials which do for
his 1915 poem which begins:                                                      society at large what the thyroid gland does for the individual.

Figure 4. Human devastation in World War I, as shown in the portrait Gassed by John Singer Sargent. Reprinted with permission from the Imperial War Museum.

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                                                                                   Figure 7. Where have all the flowers gone?

                                                                                   he reached his 70th birthday (Figure 6). On December 29,
                                                                                   1919, he died.
                                                                                       The year 2009 was the 90th anniversary of Osler’s address
                                                                                   and also the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s Rede Lecture,
                                                                                   “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” (7). Snow
                                                                                   opined that “the intellectual life of the whole of Western
                                                                                   society is increasingly being split into two polar groups—sci-
                                                                                   entists and literary scholars.” Snow felt that the literary group
                                                                                   shouldered most of the responsibility for the gulf between the
                                                                                   two. This breakdown in communication between the “two
                                                                                   cultures” was a significant impediment in resolving society’s
                                                                                   problems. Jerome Kagan, author of Three Cultures, expanded
Figure 6. The last photograph of Sir William Osler, 1919. Reprinted with           the concept, adding social sciences to the natural sciences and
permission from the William Osler Photo Collection, Osler Library of the History   humanities (8). Social scientists evaluate the claims of both
of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.                          groups. Kagan emphasized the importance of humility when
                                                                                   journeying from one’s own discipline into the other two.
The Humanities are the hormones.” Osler went on to say, “The                           Albert Jonsen has eloquently reaffirmed Osler’s metaphor
Humanities bring the student into contact with the master                          that the humanities are the hormones (9). Jonsen rephrased
minds” who gave us the great ideas and institutions of our                         Osler’s title in his monograph, The New Medicine and the Old
civilization, and “infecting the average man with the spirit of                    Ethics, pointing out the ever-closer relationship between tech-
the Humanities is the greatest single gift in education.” Osler                    nology and the humanities. Perhaps Osler summarized it best,
argued for a greater emphasis on science as well as the hu-                        saying, “The old art cannot possibly be replaced by, but must
manities, stressing that both disciplines were essential compo-                    be absorbed in, the new science” (10, 11).
nents for the acquisition of a liberal education. He cautioned                         Recall that Osler told Welch that he worked harder on this
against overspecialization, saying, “Applying themselves early                     speech than any other. He went beyond the humanities and
to research, young men get into backwaters far from the main                       sciences, calling attention to the warlike nature of mankind
stream. They quickly lose the sense of proportion, become                          and the devastating consequences of advanced technology used
hypercritical, and the smaller the field, the greater the tendency                  to cause harm.
to megalocephaly.” Osler somberly acknowledged that cultiva-                           The struggle continues. The beautiful flowers Grace Osler
tion of the humanities and the new science did not prevent a                       described in 1919 took on a different meaning 40 years later in
country from tragic self-destruction: Germany was among the                        the memorable Pete Seeger song, “Where Have All the Flowers
most advanced nations in both classical learning and scientific                     Gone?” (12). After each verse, we hear the refrain: “When will
achievements before the great war. Osler concluded on a posi-                      they ever learn? When will they ever learn?” The song goes on
tive note by saying, “The direction of our vision is everything.                   to ask where have all the young girls, husbands, soldiers, and
. . . The persistence of hope is a witness to the power of ideals                  graveyards gone and ends by completing the circle and returning
to captivate the mind.”                                                            to the query, “Where have all the flowers gone?” (Figure 7).
      Th e presidential address at the British Classical Asso-                         The events in Oxford and Flanders now lie in the distant
ciation was Osler’s last formal speech. The following July,                        past. The remainder of the 20th century and beginning of the

January 2011                                                     The humanities are the hormones                                                 19
21st have not provided much reason for optimism about our                       4.  Cushing H. Introduction. In Osler W. The Old Humanities and the New
future. Osler’s admonition about “no civilization at all” remains                   Science. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1920:i–xxii.
                                                                                5. Starling PH. The case of Edward Revere Osler. J R Army Med Corps
an awful possibility. When will we ever learn?
    Hopefully, the humanities and the sciences can be blended                   6. Macphail A. John McCrae: an essay in character. In McCrae J. In Flanders
together in a more enlightened and peaceful manner.                                 Fields and Other Poems. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1919.
                                                                                7. Snow CP. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge, UK:
Acknowledgments                                                                     Cambridge University Press, 1959.
                                                                                8. Kagan J. The Three Cultures: Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and the
    This work was supported in part by the Edward and Ruth
                                                                                    Humanities in the 21st Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Wilkof Foundation. The author thanks Shawn Guy-Pitts, Cindy                         Press, 2009.
Orticio, and Kathy Stone for expert assistance with manuscript                  9. Jonsen AR. Humanities are the hormones. In The New Medicine and the
preparation.                                                                        Old Ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990:141–158.
                                                                                10. Osler W. The reserves of life. St. Mary’s Hospital Gazette 1907;13:95–98.
1.   Osler W. The Old Humanities and the New Science. Boston: Houghton          11. Stone MJ. The reserves of life: William Osler versus Almroth Wright.
     Mifflin, 1920:1–64.                                                              J Med Biogr 2007;15(Suppl 1):28–31.
2.   Bliss M. William Osler. A Life in Medicine. New York: Oxford University    12. PBS. Pete Seeger: The power of song. In American Masters [TV show],
     Press, 1999.                                                                   2008. Available at
3.   Osler W. Bibliotheca Osleriana. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1929.             pete-seeger/the-power-of-song/50/; accessed November 22, 2010.

                                                       If you are interested in reading the full text
                                                              of Osler’s presidential address,
                                           it is available on Google Books and through PubMed Central at

20                                                      Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings                                   Volume 24, Number 1

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