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    Trying new things in medicine

    Advances made by constant questioning, study of new therapies


    Galen gave public demonstrations of his medical skills and made no effort to conceal scorn for his physician-colleagues in Rome, whom he regarded “as either incompetent or avaricious and always unscientific.”

    While many physicians may say they don’t like to write or find it difficult to find the time or motivation, Galen was remarkably prolific. More than 80 of his treatises survive, compromising more than half the entire corpus of ancient medical writing and a substantial proportion of all the ancient Greek literature that exists. His medical texts were translated into Arabic and Latin and remained in use by medical students for more than 1,300 years.

    In one of his treatises, That The Best Physician Is Also A Philosopher, he makes the point that only through constant questioning and scientific study of new treatments can medicine advance.

    Among his many observations, Galen described the circulation of blood, the generation of the voice by the larynx, the difference between motor and sensory nerves, the concept of muscle tone, and the difference between agonists and antagonists. He understood that the crystalline lens was in the anterior portion of the eye and not the center. He figured out that psychiatric problems somehow originated in the brain, and one of his works is the first description of psychotherapy to treat psychological problems.

    Peter J. McDonnell, MD
    He is director of The Wilmer Eye Institute, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of ...

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