J. Z. YOUNG, M.A. OXFD., F.R.S.
Professor of Anatomy in the University of London, at University College
It might be thought almost treacherous for a scientist to discuss the influence of language on medicine at all; the motto of the Royal Society is nullius in verba. Is it possible, as the motto seems to suggest, to escape from the pervasive effect of language on our observations and instruments, our diagnosis and prescription?
In the study of the actions of the nervous system the language currently used undoubtedly presents severe difficulties to the student, research-worker, and practising doctor. It leads to the absurd situation that those who advise us about the disorders of the nervous system are divided into several camps, which have separate languages and are often antagonistic to each other. The nervous system occupies a central part in our life and therefore this weakness in our language for dealing with it is reflected throughout medical science. It is largely because we find it so hard to say what we are, whether mind or body, that we have no central approach to medicine. It is often lamented that our students are taught a mass of detail but are given no general framework in which the facts can be set. I propose to try to show how this framework can be provided if we approach the problem of scientific and medical language directly and simply, as biologists should.
Good practitioners of an art often tell us that any study of method is unnecessary and even harmful; and those who teach, or have taught, well, often say that there is no profit in studying how to teach. This is especially true in medicine, where much teaching is practical. That good teachers do not like discussing