Note: When Dalrymple’s long-running BMJ column ended in 2012, he had a backlog of about 60 unpublished pieces, and he kindly gave them to us to post here at Skeptical Doctor. We are posting them on Wednesdays to coincide with the schedule of his old BMJ column. We hope you enjoy them.
Boastfulness is not a pleasant characteristic, but it is an increasingly necessary one for getting on in the world. Not only must one not hide one’s light under a bushel, but one must pretend, and make others believe, that one’s penny candle is actually a laser of such penetration that it will illuminate the far side of the universe. Gone are the days when a world expert on a subject would claim to know a little about it; nowadays even an eighteen year-old applicant for medical school is expected to produce a list of achievements filling several pages.
The other day, though, I came across a case of boastfulness disarming in its innocence. It was in a book called An Introduction to the Real Psychiatry: The Science that Studies and Corrects the Malfunctioning of the Fine Human Brain, by Dr M S Rao, published in Jaipur in 1971. Among the author’s previous books were From Utter Weakness and Impotence to the Supreme Sexual Power, 5th revised edition, 1969, 224 pages.
Dr Rao has nothing but contempt for other psychiatric texts:
It is remarkable how, in spite [of the lack of agreed facts or principles in psychiatry], the books on psychiatry are regarded as science books, simply because they have a rich get-up, are voluminous, made of superior paper with high-class printing, more especially because they are highly priced like other medical books, and because they are taught in medical colleges and their authors have many high medical degrees after their names.
Religion is no better. Sometimes he sounds like the Richard Dawkins of his day. Not only did Darwin for him pluck out the heart of the human mystery, but belief in God is a “silly childish belief” that leads to sexual frustration and thus to mental malfunctioning.
Luckily, Dr Rao has come to put us all right. Having quoted Pope’s famous epitaph to Sir Isaac Newton:
Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said Let Newton be, and all was light!
Dr Rao continues:
Mother Nature got busy in creating a new brain which was destined to illuminate schizophrenia, etc., etc.; and I was then ushered into the world, rather silently… Mother Nature urged me to show up, and I was declared the topmost student of my class in my state, getting by far the highest marks and winning the highest merit scholarship…
Mother Nature was not yet finished with Dr Rao:
Mother Nature later on seemed to say in my ears, “The brain (cerebrum) constructed by me is a purely mechanical brain. It is as prone to work in a wrong way as in the right way… and the wrong ways are innumerable, and the humanity has been using this brain mainly in the wrong ways… ever since I gave this brain to humanity, some 10,000 generations ago, – simply because I forgot to enclose the operating instructions with this mechanism I constructed (as is now usually done by the thoughtful engineers who construct various sorts of machines – they tell people in a leaflet how to operate their particular machine).
Fortunately, Dr Rao has discovered the operating instructions of the human brain, and:
…thus I could make Newton’s genius flourish far far more fruitfully if that unfortunate and psychologically ignorant boy could somehow come in contact with me…
For some reason, this boastfulness is endearing (perhaps because it is so eccentric) rather than off-putting, unlike our own which is merely crude and grasping.