Hold hands among the atoms

A reply by Peter J. Gordon to the Editorial: Erving Goffman’s Asylums 50 years on.  The British Journal of Psychiatry (2011) 198.http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/198/1/1.long

It so happened that as I opened up this month’s yellow journal, I had been reading ‘A life history of Edwin Morgan,’[1] the Scottish poet and Makar. Like our Editor[2], Edwin Morgan considers in his poetry the circular nature of wisdom and science, living together in a world that an atheist regarded as beautifully complex. Many everyday folk like myself have been drawn to Morgan because he was one of very few who wilfully embraced science within poetry.

“Science must somehow someday be brought into literature to a far greater extent than it has been { . . . ] in fact one of my strongest feelings is that of being on the threshold of a great epoch of history, and I only hope I live long enough to see the developments that are coming. I am very susceptible to the ‘epic’ feeling, to the idea of exploration, adventure, endurance, discovery, and I think this feeling is very important to man as a species.”[3]

I personally find that the fifty year old terminology of Goffman does not always recognise the horrid mental suffering that first necessitated medical care. It is evidently still the case that it is to doctors and nurses, and not sociologists nor philosophers, that troubled folk and family return. When talking of recent historical anniversaries, it was Johann Christian Reil who first understood such necessary medicalisation, and psychiatry as a discipline was born; a disciplinary frame that he avowed must not let go of either humanity or philosophy.[4]

Wake-up call

Wake-up call for British Psychiatry by Craddock et al:http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/193/1/6.full This Editorial had more responses than any other in the history of the British Journal of Psychiatry. They are all worth reading

Why psychiatry can’t afford to be neurophobic by Bullmore: http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/194/4/293.full.pdf+html

I really do not think that Craddock[5], Bullmore[6] et al need to lose too much sleep that we have yet to ‘wake up.’ On the contrary, I would posit that they have not fully considered historical lessons, unlike Mac Suibhne. In my view, having spent many hours reading the first hand experiences of our predecessors, the most important of these lessons is not to take too narrow a view of the sciences relevant to medicine. The only psychiatrist to cover this field, avoiding both tired dichotomy and defensive split was Leon Eisenberg who died only just last year:

“The very success of biomedicine has exacted a price in the way it has narrowed the physician’s focus exclusively to the biology of disease. However, the remedy does not lie in abandoning reductionism where it is appropriate but in incorporating it within a larger social framework to enable the physician to attend to the patient as well as to the disease.”[7]

With Leon Eisenberg concluding so, I would like to congratulate our Editor and his team in bringing our journal roundedness. As Edwin Morgan would say:  ‘let us hold hands amongst the atoms.’[8]


[1] McGonigal, J; Beyond the last dragon – A life of Edwin Morgan; Sandstone Press, 2010.

[2] Tyrer, P; A coterie of rotaries; The British Journal of Psychiatry (2011) 198, p82.

[3] Edwin Morgan (2000)

[4] Marneros, A; Psychiatry’s 200th birthday; The British Journal of Psychiatry 2008 193: 1-3

[5] Craddock N, et al. Wake-up call for British psychiatry. Br J Psychiatry 2008; 193: 6 –9

[6] Bullmore, E; Why psychiatry can’t afford to be neurophobic; The British Journal of Psychiatry (2009) 194: 293-295.

[7] Eisenberg, L; Science in Medicine: Too much or too little and too limited in scope? Am J Med. 1988 Mar; 84.

[8] Morgan, E: Hold Hands Among the Atoms. 70 Poems. Glasgow: Mariscat Press, 1991.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.