In this month's brief encounter, the brain surgeon says we have to be optimistic about the futureby Prospect Team / April 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
First news event you can recall?
I have never thought about this before. It is fascinating to realise how little awareness I had of the outside world when I was a child. Rather to my surprise I cannot consciously recall any news events before the age of 12. I think I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 but the memory is vague and there has been much research showing the fallibility of memory, and the ease with which we believe false memories. Kennedy’s death in 1963—the old cliché—I remember very clearly.
The book you are most embarrassed you have never yet read?
I am embarrassed by the very large number of books on my bookshelves which I have not read. I find it very hard not to buy at least one book every time I enter a bookshop. The road to hell is paved with unread books. There are too many to list!
One bit of advice you’d give to your younger self?
To calm down, to be less impatient, to think twice before giving in to my feelings, to talk less. The problem is that the reflective parts of our brains—in the frontal lobes—do not fully mature until our late twenties, so the advice might well be useless.
Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with?
Beethoven, but he had terrible table manners and was deaf, so I don’t think the dinner would be a great success.
What do you most regret?
Oh, many things, especially in my work as a surgeon. Probably being blind to my children’s needs when going through a painful divorce from their mother.
What is the biggest problem of all?
Global warming and the destruction of the environment by the rise of science and technology. But if there is any solution to this it will have to be through more science and technology.
The last piece of music/play/novel/film that brought you to tears?
In private, music often brings me to tears. A particularly moving book I read recently was I Shall Not Hate by the Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish, whose children were killed in Gaza. As doctors, we should aspire to treat all our patients without judgment. Abuelaish’s book is an extraordinary expression of this moral imperative, which in practice is so hard to achieve.
If you were given £1m to spend on other people, what would you spend it on and why?
I’d have to do some research and make a list of many small charities, and divide the money up 100 times. I would like to try to help charities that strengthen local communities both at home and abroad.
Are things getting better or worse?
I was very struck by Nicholas Stern’s comment that we have to be optimistic about the future and global warming. If we are pessimistic we will not try to make things better and our pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I wonder endlessly what sort of world my grandchildren will be living in when they reach my age. Who in 1900 could have seen what would happen in the 20th century?
Admissions by Henry Marsh is out in paperback now.
Henry Marsh will appear at the Prospect Book Club on Monday 18th June. More information can be found on p85