On Curiosity

Monday Musings for Monday May 26. 2014

Volume IV, No. 20/177



by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*


As Monday Musings approaches a new chapter in its life, we have added a celebratory note for its raison d’être. Of course, we have had a mission statement since the inception of the project, celebrating medicine, the arts, intellect, ideas, and curiosity. Some readers have strongly suggested that we should add education to the mix.  We will.

For millennia, humans have struggled with complex issues of faith, believe, reason, the dualistic juxtaposed soul and body, Sophists’ deductive reasoning vs. Baconian empiricism encouraging inductive observation. Finally, at the beginning of eighteenth century, the birth of enlightenment which lasted about 200 years (roughly the birth of Voltaire in 1694 to the early twentieth century the birth of aviation 1903) brought hope that faith and reason can co-exist.  And folks like Scottish philosopher David Hume (born 1711) and a generation later, caustic British Cleric, Jonathan Swift (born 1745) can live together within the same century, disagree with each other vehemently, yet have good things to say about each other.

Enlightenment gave mankind the gift of idea, skepticism and curiosity. It permitted us to question things. It brought us the delight of being seekers, doubters and eternal students and learners. Romanticism followed enlightenment in the twentieth century. It deepened our abilities to be better seekers, and heightened our potential to become better students of science.

The first theologian/philosopher/poet/existentialist/romanticist who ushered in the age of Romanticism was the Danish Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). There were other romanticists such of Byron (1788-1824), Shelly (1792-1822) and Keats (1795-1821) who fanned the wonderful ember of romanticism. They wrote about the beauty of the soul and man’s ability to fuse with mysticism.

In the 21st century we have the best of both. Faithful readers of this space recall the most recent contribution of science to finding solutions to the brain disease known as schizophrenia. Also we have from time to time written about the poetry of Sufis. The astonishing discovery for a student of transcendence is that the writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo in his most celebrated book, The City of God, written in Latin, around 410 AD, are very much the same as Khahjeh Abdollah Ansari’s Monajat, poems written in Arabic and Farsi in 1245 AD. Did Ansari plagiarize and use Augustine’s prose to prove his point? I doubt it! The point is once one enters the temple of transcendence, one finds many dwellers and many seekers of wisdom who use the same language, the language of love. Polyglossia and the Pentecost are an eloquent testimony that difference in how we speak and how we articulate thoughts are unimportant. Like music, the language of love and elevated spiritualism and deep connectedness of humankind are the same no matter where you go, and no matter who is speaking and in what language it is spoken.

One of the most intriguing words in the English lexicon is “curiosity.” As physicians, we must remain curious and continue to learn as much as possible about our profession. In medicine, mere competence is NOT good enough. We must be excellent in what we do. We must be engaged in continuous Medical education, keeping up with cutting edge research, medical literature, and read peer reviewed journals. This unending curiosity is not only desirable but necessary. Yet, we cannot be curious by experimenting with drugs and wondering how they affect us and our brain by partaking some! Therefore, one form of curiosity is an integral part of practicing proficient and good medicine, while the other form of curiosity is a detriment. Also, being curious about other fields of knowledge expands our mental and cognitive capacity, and in many instances, brings us joy and fresh insight.

“Monday Musings” is privileged to encourage curiosity, facilitate expansion of cognitive capacity, and elevate the majesty of human soul….


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.


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