Why Look Back?

  1. Published on November 25, 2011

We all have in some form or other, a conceptual framework of reference which puts our life into context – a belief system.

Phrenology Bust with Thought Processes Mapped to Discrete Areas of the Cranium

A schema which helps to make sense of our place in the world and the universe.

It may encompass religion, science, nature, the stars, the supernatural, or none of these.

Certain precepts may be shared throughout societies, cultures and civilisations.

Our belief system allows us to construct ideas about how our human body works, and also the actions and remedies we need to take when it does not. It would take a brave doctor to attempt to help a patient without first fathoming those constructs.

Examining the devices used by our medical forefathers can help us to understand them and their role in a social and historical context. The stories which accompany many of these old instruments and artefacts illuminate them and bring them back to life. In doing so also they also illustrate the history of medicine and give us clues about how patients and their doctors thought and what they believed in. This allows us to see how those beliefs have changed over time … or perhaps more interestingly how many of them have not.

Scientific and evidence based principles may have empowered the credibility of current day medicine, but belief systems inherited over thousands of years do not wash away so easily. Is it possible that our society today could still be affected by powerful undercurrents and unspoken beliefs born of religion and magic? Could knowledge of this make a difference to how we practice modern medicine?

Yes, it is true that there was much quackery practised by our medical forefathers. But it is because of this and what it can tell us, not despite it, that we have so much to gain from revisiting the ‘Practice of Phisick’.

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