September 7th, 2017

The civilizing influence of historical continuity

By Andrew M. Harrison

By Andrew M. Harrison

I am not a scholar of history, but I like to pretend I play one on the TV machine.

After writing of the Minnesota cornfield-tundra earlier this year for Meet Mayo Med, The Official Blog of Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, it occurred to me I do not understand the cornfields. After almost a decade near the cornfields, my first summer at Mayo Clinic in 2008, this seemed to me rather embarrassing. Thus, I pursued the only reasonable course of action and moved into the cornfields. After many months watching the cornfields evolve from dirt to [something appearing to approach corn], still I do not yet understand the cornfields. I also do not entirely understand the grain silo next to my apartment. One truck dumps in grain. Another truck dumps out what I presume is the same grain. What purpose does this serve? I suspect Wikipedia possesses information describing this process, but I am not convinced Wikipedia can help me experience or truly understand this process.

People seem to like to reference On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, published in 1859 at age 50 years, but I find the story behind this story, the second voyage of HMS Beagle, originally published as The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin in 1839, at age 30 years, a more insightful read. At least, I was first enamored to learn Charles Darwin set sail on the second voyage of HMS Beagle in 1831 at age 22 years and returned in 1836 at age 27 years. Despite his writings, I still do not understand how Darwin possessed so much knowledge at such a young age. I also do not understand how this child, who effectively flunked out as a parson in training at Christ's College in Cambridge, after an attempt to become a physician at Edinburgh Medical School, could accomplish these epic feats. The only reasonable course of actions is to ask him, how the corn grows as well, but he passed away in 1882 at age 73 years.

"Aren't you [physicians] the ones who decided to go to college for 12 years?"

My best attempt above to quote Lace Larrabee from a recent performance at The Punchline Comedy Club in Atlanta, I decided to swing by for a performance by Dave Attell at the same event, where Jarrod Harris referenced the ongoing demise of standup comedy, due in part to the rise of children who possess fancy camera phones, but have lost sight of the past.

Dave Attell does not look much the actor, or so he claims.

"A popular piece of sociology holds that Americans are losing confidence in the future because they are losing sight of the past." —William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways, 1982 (100 years after the death of Darwin)

The words above written a few lines before the title of this post, published the same year The Punchline Comedy Club opened. I no longer follow the US news (aka "the news"). It is filled with stories of death and destruction. At least for me, demise does not generally instill great confidence. However, the corn does not seem to care. The child Darwin (somehow) figured out the natural order, possibly minus humans, but including all other animals, also does not seem to care. Whether humans are unique because we care or mere coincidence I do not know either.

From Blue Highways, I am glad this scholar of history, including a PhD in English, was brave enough to preserve the ugly history, less it become forgotten as well. One day I should ask him, easier to converse with the living, I hope he agrees with me paperback remains the best way to consume knowledge, for I find modern flavors such as tablet too crunchy.

I hear Mayo Clinic is becoming some sort of Destination Medical Center. At least in Rochester, I hope this impending influx of new humans and technology also brings newfound remembrance of the past, as well as deep reflection upon the history of diversity, less confidence become lost. If nothing else, Jarrod Harris will have more places to land his helicopter-house. Perhaps Dave Attell will even visit "the tavern" in Bellechester, assuming his tour bus can navigate the blue highways required to reach this civilization Google Maps still struggles to touch, where I feel some form of continuity between the natural order and a future of hope remains largely intact, at least as long as the corn continues to rise.

Probably I should end with "Medicine is the best of all professions, the most hopeful" (Aphorisms, William J. Mayo, #36). However, I wonder if non-physician patients would agree, and prefer this image, from a time when I heard too many aphorisms of the Mayo Brothers quoted as if some form of scripture, hallow versus hollow words, this one resonated with me, also not so easy to find on Google. My greatest thanks to Hilary Lane and Nicole Babcock of Mayo Clinic's History of Medicine Library for sourcing this quote, these words were originally published as the opening of "Tolerance and Honesty" by the Mayo Brothers in 1925 for Rochester High School students, reaching high school students at least as far as Tennessee by 1936 via East Tennessee Education Association of Signal Mountain and the radio machine. I am glad real historians remain, plus the ending of this talk: "...a reputation which can be handed down as an example to their children."

Andrew M. Harrison is one of the co-managers of Mayo Clinic’s Diversity in Education Blog and a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Mayo Clinic.

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