Venturing into the world of medical humanities

I have always maintained a strong interest in the history and philosophy of science. I don’t know whether that was largely a subset of my interest in trivia, but in the last couple of years, the field has been quite compelling to me as a possible future route. My background in the humanities at the university level is not extensive. I took a course in philosophy of physics in my 4th year, which is among the top learning experiences at university, but I continued to have doubts about whether this was something I’d want to pursue exclusively in an academic setting.

I am attracted to the idea of thinking about science and technology as a crucial part of humanity’s heritage. So far, the artifacts that the public at large concerns itself with is the art, literature and architecture of the past, but it is easy for most to lose sight of the science, technology and the associated politics that influenced all of that. Any narrative or analytical approach that looks into it is of value to me.

A while ago, a Twitter friend, Erene Stergiopoulos, invited me to her weekly reading group on the history and philosophy of psychiatry. I have little exposure to specifically the fields of psychology and psychiatry. The little I know involves the history and theories behind medicalization and pathologization of bodies and sexualities, which I have acquired through the women and gender studies grapevine. Nonetheless, venturing out into the world of medical humanities have been exciting.

A part of me, the one which expects to real-world, somewhat tangible results from discussions of science, is seeking to understand how study of past medical attitudes and practices can help health care providers and consumers alike today benefit from improved systems, and whether this is something that should be the aim of medical humanities at all. Some people such as Dr. Sayantani Dasgupta, from the Narrative Medicine program at Columbia University, see that storytelling and understanding the role of stories in medicine is essential to providing quality medical care, but I wonder, how as an academic field, history and philosophy of science can enable practitioners to engender the body of knowledge they produce.

Again, these are completely new fields to me. As an engineer, I may need a slight paradigm shift to appreciate the value of medical humanities beyond how they are immediately helpful to the practice of medicine. For me, just getting into fields vastly different from anything I have formally studies is very enjoyable to me.

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