Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

WORLDLY fame is all too fleeting. A name which is a household word to one generation may produce merely the wrinkled brow of puzzlement in the next. Literary celebrity is perhaps the most evanescent of all - who, apart from second-hand book dealers, has now heard of E. Phillips Oppenheim, to cite but a single example of departed glory? - yet scientific fame is also short-lived.

Who now remembers Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist who charted the stages of a child's mental development? At one time not so very long ago he was all the rage. I don't know whether he is forgotten because his ideas were proved wrong, or because they are now regarded as so obviously true that they needed no originator; but I recall nonetheless that one of his books was about the child's concept of death.

No child, I think he said, understood the permanence of death before the comparatively late age of ten; but a generation raised on junk food and parental neglect has turned out to be surprisingly precocious, in this as in other things. I suppose this proves the resilience of Man, and we should be thankful for it.

A patient last week mentioned to me that she was finding her children difficult to tolerate. Dixon was particularly unpleasant.

'He says the most horrible things to me, doctor.'

'Such as what?' I asked.

'I'm going to stab you in the heart with a machete and then I'm going to cut your head off.'

'Six, nearly seven.'

My guess is that Dixon understood the permanence of death only too well.

'And where do you think he gets his ideas from? …

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