Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

Wonder in medicine

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 25 November 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4976
  1. Daniel K Sokol, honorary senior lecturer in medical ethics, Imperial College London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}

    There is something amiss if medical professionals no longer have the capacity to be astonished by their work

    The lectures we attend, like the articles we read, seldom withstand the ravages of memory. Two lectures, however, are etched in my mind. The first was delivered to all of three students by a professor of romance languages. Its unpromising topic was morphology (which in linguistics concerns the structure of words). The second, by a member of the Inner Magic Circle of London, was on showmanship. He revealed the secrets of turning ordinary tricks into full blown miracles. More than mastery of their subject, the two lecturers had the panache of Cyrano. They also exuded a profound sense of wonder—a wonder at the magic of language and the beauty of a visual illusion.

    The Greeks called this sense of wonder or bewilderment “thauma.” Plato believed it “the mark of the philosopher,” and his student Aristotle considered it the precursor to wisdom, for it forms the starting point of philosophy. Leafing through the patients’ notes of the neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing, I found …

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