Is Man the Measure of All Things?
by Anirudh Rai, MSII
More often than not we are bombarded with hostile images on the news that relay upon our minds the most primitive of emotions: fear. Shootings perpetrated in the most heinous of manners through the killing innocents, acts of barbarism that raise questions about what it means to be human. And through it all, an age-old question comes to mind: "What's wrong with the world?" G.K. Chesterton gave a most interesting and insightful response to this question when he was asked by an editor:
On your question on what's wrong with the world, I am.
How peculiar; we are what's wrong with the world; mankind is the problem. Beings who are as durable as steel, yet fragile as a rose. Beings who hold the very essence of the divine but who are sometimes capable of wickedness beyond compare. Malcolm Muggerridge, former editor of Punch Magazine, once said, "The depravity of man is the most empirically verifiable fact, while being the most intellectually resilient." Is this true? Well, one just needs to look at the turmoil of the world and see it.
I have often pondered this question and as I pursue my goal to become a doctor, it continues to return. Seeing the sick, the wounded, the helpless, I can't help but wonder, "Has the whole world gone mad? Are we not living as we should?"
Chesterton once again comes to mind in a most thoughtful manner. Commenting on the portrait, "The Crucifixion of St. Peter," he said, "You remember that he was crucified upside down. I've often fancied his humility was rewarded by seeing in death the beautiful vision of his boyhood. He saw the landscape as it really is: with the stars like flowers, and the clouds like hills, and all men hanging on the mercy of God."
Often, it seems like we are falling towards that gentle garden, never to gaze upon its beauty as we ourselves cut the strings that allow us to look upon it in safety. Have we, as Friedrich Nietzsche asserted, become the God of gods, having to light our own lanterns, wipe the horizon, and like Nietzsche's "madman" proclaim that God is dead? Is Man the measure of all things?
If we live in a world where this is indeed the case, how can we find ultimate truth, happiness, and peace amidst all the turmoil and chaos around us? Many philosophies teach that such things can only be found beyond the narrow vision of Man. Until we reach that understanding, we will always be discontentedly searching.
However, in Medicine, the first step toward finding a cure for a malady is to identify the source of the problem causing it. In closing, I share the words of Pascal, father of the modern computer: "It is in vain, oh men, that you seek within yourselves the remedy for your ills. All your light can only reach the knowledge that not in yourselves will you find truth or good. The philosophers have promised you that, and have been unable to do it. They neither know what is your true good, nor what is your true state. How could they have given remedies for your ills, when they did not even know them?"
I hope that this essay will encourage fellow students and physicians to gain insight through self-examination as well as increase and improve their relationships with others as we progress onward in our medical journeys.