"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Thursday, September 22, 2005


Thank heavens, the fall television season has begun. Yes, I like television, and I found a lot to like last season. This season looks as promising. Also, it is wearying to write about something as dreary as Islam and all related to it continuously--to put it in perspective, if these Muslims did not get into our faces, we would never, ever notice them, give them the time of day, or care one way or the other about anything Islamic at any time whatsoever. Life has so much of interest, and nothing Islamic falls into that classification.

One of my favorite programs is "House." House himself is my favorite character, and he is played masterfully by Hugh Laurie. To my astonishment, I just learned that Mr. Laurie is not only English, but he is a modern blue blood, given his growing up and education.

As a physician, I have to hold my nose about the behaviors of his "house staff," a medical pun, of course. I mean his junior colleagues who are either in post residency fellowship or early professional staffdom. For example, these three doctors exist apparently without benefit of supportive staff, including nurses, laboratory and radiological technicians, and all the others the rest of us depend upon. They do MRIs, cardiac catheterizations, all laboratory chemistry procedures, and even direct neurosurgeons, cardiac surgeons, and everyone else presumably. This aspect of the program is frankly hokey. These juniors seem to work 36 hour days, 10 days a week, and 10 weeks every month, without needing another soul.

In reality, those other souls, the technicians, nurses, and other medical support personnel know much more about doing all radiological, laboratory, and similar procedures than residents, fellows, and even senior staff physician specialists. Also, NO surgeon I ever met would ever stand for some internal medicine "puke" telling him or her how to do their jobs.

However, I know that these renaissance juniors of House exist to make House come to life.

My biggest complaint comes from how they formulate differential diagnoses. Whoever does the writing bypasses the cognitive chain of evidence in favor of shotgunning a differential. The three juniors throw up possible diagnoses and indicated procedures as if they had computers doing random sorts of diagnoses and procedures, by-passing clues and the tiniest scraps of evidence which lead them to posit possibilities.

By now, it may be obvious that I am a physician. Although no longer actively practicing, I started out in a damned good, and new, medical school in the 1960s and met a few really sharp diagnosticians, like House, but with very different personalities. Like House, they were all egocentric as well as eccentric. None suffered fools lightly. We referred to being in their presence in any capacity as "gathering pearls." Presumably they were casting pearls before us swine.

House's persona has been battered through life, clearly. These batterings have given him strength and fragility as well as eccentricity. So it was with all those other diagnostician greats in whose umbra I basked.

Yet, with House, there is no compromise with the most important quality of all: rationality. Getting it right, for the patient, is the most important thing of all to House. Who gets wounded or slighted in the process is at best secondary.

Of course, it is nice to give group hugs, but as the actor Hugh Laurie puts it, most of us would rather have someone who is not nice but right over some warm fuzzy who is wrong. It is life and death on the line.

In this sense, House joins the previous season or so and this season in a clatch of programs in which reason reigns. Excluding the alien invasion stuff which has yet to prove itself, look at Bones and all the CSIs and their new spinoffs. Logic and reason, the stuff of rationality, dominate--with all the fluff as secondary. House follows suit.

I will hazard a speculation. We have lived since the 1960s with cultural corruption, with reason derogated, and sitcoms as well as endless made-for-television movies and dramas mired in the goo of rampant emotionality and unreason. The art coming from contemporary television is telling us that change is underway. We are on the road to the reassertion of reason and its offspring. House and the other pro-reason programs, however flawed, are the harbingers.

Take heart.


  • At Tue Sep 27, 07:55:00 PM PDT, Blogger Alistair Quimby said…

    "It is the very worst of times, and The End is near."

    The sense of history I have in my thirty-odd years is that this is a sentiment as old as time.

    I hope you're right about the upturn, particularly when you use House M.D., possibly my favorite T.V. show, as an example. By the way, the CSI's are great, along with another one that you didn't mention, Without a Trace. It awes me that these shows are so popular while being so deeply rooted in reason and benevolence.

    I attended something called The 1994 Texas Objectivist Conference in Austin in October, 1994. Many things about those two days stick with me. Not the least of which is meeting, lunching with, and being lectured by artist Sylvia Bokar (I'm going on memory with the spelling there). Her lecture (still going on memory) was about art appreciation.

    Flashback: It's 1993, and I'm thinking that I'm some kind of oddball, atheistic conservative, but I like Rush Limbaugh well enough. A listener, apparently one of many, had called and told him that he sounded like "Ayn Rand," whoever that was (yes, really). He read passages that he called "just chilling, absolutely chilling" from a book called Atlas Shrugged. Turns out it was Galt’s speech. The rest is history with me. The point I'm making is that over and over, time and time again, I read Objectivists, and sometimes I say to myself, "that's what I've been trying to say." More often though, I say "that's what I've been trying to THINK."

    Back to Sylvia. I had such an epiphany at her lecture. She helped me with something I’d been trying to think. She explained that there are effectively two methods of appreciation regarding art: the Objective Esthetic Evaluation, and the Personal Esthetic Response. Still going on memory, the OEE is essentially summed up as: how can this work of art be reckoned with regard to the values that it expresses? The PER is actually one’s own personal reaction and feelings in regarding it. When I observe art, be it television, movies, books, or whatever, the best I usually hope for is to get a favorable Personal Esthetic Response. If I can find both in a given work of art, then as far as I’m concerned it’s a masterpiece.

    I always take the long way around in saying things. But I’m glad of your posting because it’s an enjoyable way of being reminded that there is art out there wherein both qualities can be found.

    You're right. It IS heartening.


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