Thursday, 8 July 2010


“History is philosophy teaching by examples.” - Thucydides

I am preparing seven lectures that I shall record for our online learning students. I had forgotten the greatly stimulating intellectual activity this is, since I took up my new job exactly two-and-a-half years ago. As my work currently involves no actual teaching but more higher adminstrative, strategic and executive duties, it is rather refreshing to be invited to do these lectures. However, the problem is that I am continuing with all of my other tasks while preparing these lectures, which as is usual with me I have left till the last minute. Nevertheless, the lectures will be done and done well, even if they are got ready at the eleventh hour.

The subject is the historical development of medicine worldwide with the views of healing and health to be placed into social and philosophical context. It is a fascinating subject and my lectures look at two distinct periods: Prehistory to 3,000 BC worldwide for two lectures, and then the remaining five lectures on the development of Western medicine from its origins in Mesopotamia and Egypt to the 18th century. I am trying to make these lectures as engaging as possible and include much visual material as well as “case studies” illustrating how people lived, got sick and got better (or not!). My colleagues are preparing and delivering the remaining lectures that look at ancient China, India, Australasia and Europe from the 19th century until now. It will be a wonderful coverage and a good introduction to the students’ study of health.

One problem that constantly besets an educator is how to cover enormous quantities of material in the short time allowed for teaching. One has to be broad and all-encompassing, while at the same brief and germane. It takes a special skill to omit much and still keep the essential in what one present to students. One must stimulate and engage, tease and lead, interest and pique curiosity so that the student is tempted to go and read more afterwards. The job of the teacher is stimulate the students’ mind and to light the fire of the thirst for knowledge. Learning then becomes the job of the student.

While preparing these lectures, I am lost in byways of peripheral material that I read for my own interest, become fascinated by tangential information and learn much myself. How much there is discover, to learn and enjoy, while teaching others! I became fascinated by the prehistory and history of the Americas and learned much about the Inuit, the Amerindians, the Olmecs, Mayas, Aztecs and Incas. It is surprising how similar views of health and disease are worldwide when one goes back to several thousand years before today.

The slow development of supernatural ideas into empiricism, to philosophical considerations to the scientific approach is quite intriguing and the way the different cultures have coped with these changing perspectives at quite different rates is worthy of great study. The more one investigates a topic the more one learns the more one realizes the truth behind Socrates’ famous dictum: “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.”

Knowledge is easy enough to acquire if one has time and expends some of this time in active study. The trouble is to learn enough and be able to use it with one’s experience, soundness of action, and good judgment so that is becomes wisdom…

knowledge |ˈnälij| noun
1 Facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject: A thirst for knowledge | Her considerable knowledge of antiques.
• What is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information: The transmission of knowledge.
• Philosophy True, justified belief; certain understanding, as opposed to opinion.
2 Awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation: The program had been developed without his knowledge | He denied all knowledge of the overnight incidents.
Relating to organised information stored electronically or digitally: The knowledge economy.
come to one’s knowledge: Become known to one.
To ( the best of) my knowledge 1 so far as I know. 2 as I know for certain.
ORIGIN: Middle English (originally as a verb in the sense [acknowledge, recognise,] later as a noun): from an Old English compound based on cnāwan [recognize, identify] of Germanic origin; from an Indo-European root shared by Latin (g)noscere, Greek gignōskein.

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