The Hollow Heart of Medical Science

Why are neuroscientists, molecular biologists, geneticists, and developmental biologists – men and women whose discoveries have forever changed the way we understand ourselves – so uneasy about their futures? The crisis in morale among today’s medical scientists stems not from money problems, nor from the stage of development of their fields, nor from the level of research that is being conducted, but from these scientists’ failure to form themselves into proper, humane communities.

Low morale results from too little kindness and decency; it is a failure of custom and manners, a loss of social purpose, a diminution of the ability or the will to distinguish right from wrong and then to act rightly. At root, low morale is just a consequence of the indifference of medical scientists, busy in their labs, allowing the social and emotional foundations of their field to rot away beneath them.

The vulnerability of the sciences that focus on the human body and mind lies in the obligation all scientists have to observe their systems with dispassion. In these fields, dispassion requires that the medical scientist ignore his or her own vulnerability of mind and body. The strain of trying to meet this impossible standard of cool curiosity about one’s own fate imposes an unbearable distance between the scientist of the body and mind, and the body and mind of the scientist. Under this strain, medical research scientists are susceptible to the dream that their instruments and procedures have somehow freed them from the limitations of their minds and bodies.

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