I was lucky enough in 2001 to hear the Greek computer scientist Christos H. Papadimitriou talk at the Informatics Jamboree here in Edinburgh. It was soon after when I had discovered Herb Simon, and when I was trying to think hard about diagnosis, learning and clinical skills. I remember little of the content of the lecture, except that part of it was given over to thinking about the size of the internet. What I have never forgotten however was the sense of intellectual playfulness that he demonstrated, and also an informality of style that was exhillerating. There is a lesson here: be careful how you measure what success in lecturing means. He has authored some works of fiction (better still, lets call them works of imagination, because they are both fiction and non-fiction) including Turing (A novel about computation), and with Apostolos Doxiadis, Logicomix.
For some reason I came across one of his books again, and looked him up on the web. Here on this page was a lovely description of a course he is teaching at Berkeley:
Purpose: Classics are written by people, often in their twenties, who take a good look at their field, are deeply dissatisfied with an important aspect of the state of affairs, put in a lot of time and intellectual effort into fixing it, and write their new ideas with self-conscious clarity. I want all Berkeley graduate students to read them.
Now, within these few sentences is so much of what science and much of intellectual life is about; and the problems that face the organisation of modern science. Pithy statements, belong both to those who study algorithms (as Christos does), and the poets. But the thought that interests me is that many ‘classics’ within medicine, are not of this sort. If I pull Shelley and Crissey’s Classics in Clinical Dermatology off my shelf, we see something different. This difference tells us a lot about one difference between science and the practice of medicine, but exposure to the classics needs to be common to both.