A little knowledge is a dangerous thing
December 9, 2020
Posted by on
The title is quoted from lines that Alexander Pope wrote 300 years ago. In popular culture only the first line is remembered, with knowledge substituted for learning, as I have done above.
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
Both of my father’s parents died of acute indigestion. At least that’s what their death certificates said. My grandfather died in 1912 and my grandmother in 1927, in the doctor’s office. Such was the state of medical knowledge 100 years ago that chest pains were attributed to indigestion. Doctors, and most of the rest of us, know a little more today. Still, my doctor told me of a man in his examining room with chest discomfort who said, “All I need is a big burp, doctor.” The doctor knew better, this man was having a massive heart attack, and treating it as indigestion wasn’t going to save his life.
Nowadays, medical information is just a mouse click away. Some of it is good, some not so good and some is downright dangerous. Some folks choose to believe the advice that best suits their inclinations. Alexander Pope didn’t know about the internet, but his words are very fitting. A few sips at this fountain of knowledge is intoxicating, making us feel that we are experts, knowing more than the professionals. That intoxication can be deadly, for ourselves, or for someone who takes our ill-informed advice.