The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."
Showing posts with label Bernard Lown. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bernard Lown. Show all posts

Friday, March 26, 2021

Phrasing the Question Right is the First Step to Find an Answer. How to Prevent Nuclear War



Professor Bernard Lown died this February at 99. A great man by all means: Physician, cardiologist, professor at Harvard University, and a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He was the inventor of the defribrillator, the proposer of many successful ways to help people suffering from heart failure. He was also the recipient of the Nobel prize for peace for his activity against nuclear war.
It was in the 1980s when I attended a seminar in Berkeley given by a member of the group called "International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War." Some decades later, I am not completely sure the talk was given by the founder of the group, Dr. Bernard Lown, but from what I remember, it was him. I was impressed by the clarity of the talk. The speaker said it very simply, "it is not a question of being left or right: nuclear war is the greatest medical emergency I can imagine." 
It is the way you frame a problem that gives you the tools to solve it! Just like "The Seneca Effect" gives a name to a typical behavior of complex systems, that of collapsing, framing the nuclear confrontation as a medical emergency and not as a political struggle brought it to the realm of concrete problems that people could understand. We might also frame nuclear war as an especially nasty kind of Seneca Cliff affecting humankind and the whole planet. 
Probably because the problem was framed right, the Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War had a remarkable success. At some point, it had some 200,000 members, and Bernard Lown, its Western founder, was invited to Moscow to meet the newly elected secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev (an encounter that the Western Media refused to cover). One of the results was the group was awarded the Nobel prize for peace in 1985. Whether their work was one of the reasons why we remained free from nuclear war up to now, it is hard to say. But efforts in a good cause are never wasted.

The Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War is still active, nowadays. The interest in preventing a nuclear war faded with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but we may be actually closer to war today than we were in the 1980s -- it is just that we haven't been thinking so much about the matter. 
So, I missed the news of the death of Dr. Bernard Lown, less than one month ago.
You can read Lown's thoughts on his blog that he kept until 2012. It is a fascinating read, it was this blog that had made me rediscover him more than 30 years after that (perhaps) I had met him. In the blog, he describes his career and how often he had to fight with the medical establishment to make them accept that some traditional healing methods were not only useless but harming the patients. A case in point was the habit of keeping bedridden people who had suffered a heart attack. It took a remarkable effort to convince physicians that setting patients on a chair was a way to give them the psychological comfort they needed to heal themselves. Lown was a man who always did his best to do what he thought was right.  We would need people like him, now, but where have they gone?
Lown died at 99 this February. Gaia was gentle with this son of hers who did so much for all of us and she gave him a long life that I can imagine was full of satisfactions. May he rest in peace.
Bernard Lown's Blog: worth reading as an unending source of wisdom on the practice of medicine.