Of meteorologists and neurologists

weatherdartsRegarding meteorologists, a friend of mine is fond of saying he wouldn’t mind making a six-figure salary to guess the weather with no negative consequences for error. That’s fair, especially for those plying their trade in New England. (Meteorology in Southern California is a different beast, q.v. Steve Martin’s report in “LA Story”.) Any long range forecast for these parts, i.e. more than 24 hours into the future, is a crap shoot. You might as well throw darts to make those predictions.

Or consult Jean Dixon. You might object, “She’s dead.” Exactly my point.

My experience leads me to believe that the field of neurology, especially with respect to my particular interest: MS, shares a great deal in common with those weather folks. Both take wild guesses at what might happen in the future and are often wrong. Their failures can lead to disastrous results for those dependent on their accuracy.

Neurology example:

I probably shouldn’t have listened to the neurologist who told me the failure of my right leg to keep up with my left was purely a temporary orthopedic problem. Yeah, temporary. This lifetime only.

Meteorology example:

The people who didn’t show up for a recent get-together would have been better served not to trust the weather prognosticators who promised everything from torrential rain to tornadoes. I think a little fire and brimstone were suggested as well.

When it comes to qualifications for the role of neurologist or meteorologist (they even rhyme!) most people would list attributes such as higher level education, attention to detail, and scientific acumen. (For the on-air weather personality, add, “Looks good in a swimsuit.” This is decidedly not a prerequisite for the field of neurology.)

I’d add another trait: humility. In fact, I’d put that one at the top of the list. When dealing with processes as complex as the human central nervous system or the earth’s ecosystem, it’s best to approach them with a meekness befitting the challenge at hand. We’re talking about – depending on your world view – outguessing nature or God.

Pretending to understand such complexities demonstrates an arrogance of historic proportions. We’ve been burned in the past by our conceit. Whether it’s bloodletting or burning witches, our feigned ability to comprehend the unknown has brought about untold suffering.

Note I’m not saying not to try, just don’t fake certainty in areas where certainty is beyond our horizon of learning. That serves no one well. Feel free to push the limits of human knowledge. But know those limits.


About rickconti

It's not about me, remember?
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