Magazine article The Spectator

Medicine and Letters

Magazine article The Spectator

Medicine and Letters

Article excerpt

My copy of Schopenhauer's essays was owned before me also by a doctor, J. Raymond Hinshaw, MD. Hinshaw, a former Rhodes Scholar, was professor of surgery at Rochester, New York, and an expert in the use of lasers in surgery upon which subject he wrote a book. He died in 1993, aged 70, and the postgraduate medical centre in Rochester is named in his honour.

I am not sure how far Schopenhauer is suitable reading for a doctor. Whatever their mental reservations, doctors are committed to optimism, to the belief that life can be made better or at least more bearable. Schopenhauer, on the other hand, sees human life as a dialectic between pain and boredom. If we achieve what we strive for, which is the removal of nagging dissatisfaction, then we are confronted by the nullity and pointlessness of human existence. Schopenhauer also believed what I came to conclude from observation of my patients and daily life in Britain, namely that entertainment, or rather distraction, was both a cause and consequence of ineradicable boredom.

Would you want to consult a doctor who took too seriously Schopenhauer's view of life?

If we turn from contemplating the world as a whole and, in particular, the generations of men as they live their little hour of mockexistence and then are swept away in rapid succession; if we turn from this, and look at life in its small details, as presented, say, in a comedy, how ridiculous it all seems! It is like a drop of water seen through a microscope, a single drop teeming with infusoria; or a speck of cheese full of mites invisible to the naked eye. How we laugh as they bustle about so eagerly, and struggle with one another in so tiny a space! …

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