December 11th, 2008

krazy koati

A thousand pictures can be drawn from one word

Isaac Asimov claimed at least once that the greatest benefit of learning more was that you found more things funny. This may be true, but sometimes not knowing something allows you to find something else funny. One canonical example of this for me had been from Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, when in a fit of logic Man proves that white is black and proceeds to get himself killed at the next zebra crossing. I loved the whimsical notion of there just being particular places where zebras were expected to cross, and was sorely disillusioned when I first moved to Singapore and discovered that by zebra crossing Adams just meant a crosswalk. It was funnier when I didn't know what one was.

I had another such experience with my audio book, A Short History Of Medicine, by Frank Conzalez-Crussi, which is not quite so chronological as I had assumed. Instead it looks at various aspects of medicine and medical practice and while it may skim over events since it's trying to cover three thousand years and six continents in eight CDs, it does dip into things in detail enough to enlighten and surprise me sometimes.

For example in a discussion of how it can be that diseases are social constructs, the product of social expectations, it discusses the Wandering Kidney, a popular diagnosis in the United States in the early 20th century for anything that bothered people who spent a lot of time around doctors who maybe joined the profession before the Flexner Report. Well, up until that paragraph I had assumed that a Wandering Kidney was a whimsical malady invented by Robert Benchley for an essay he wrote about what ills you. Granted he took it farther than any of the kidneys were alleged to have wandered, but I'd just assumed he made the whole thing up, you know? Sometimes it's better not knowing more.

Trivia: The Procrastinators Club of America and the Society for Basic Irreproducible Research were both founded in 1956. Source: The Uncyclopedia, Gideon Haigh.

Currently Reading: A Short History Of British Expansion, Volume 1, James A Williamson.