Reading House MD and Philosophy [Part 3]

Another installment of my brief notes on House and Philosophy. You can also read Part 1 and Part 2, if you’d like. This time the essays try to correlate House to a broader concept, be it another literary character or a way of thinking from across the globe. Overall, the authors’ goal is to explain House’s thought process. Again, these are not reviews, but quick notes I made on ideas that appealed to m the most.

The Logic of Guesswork in Sherlock Holmes and Dr. House.

  1. Interesting idea that House is a result of both Sherlock’s persona (whose name is rather pronounced “Homes”) and Dr. Watson’s medical title (ie. Doctor).
  2. Among their parallels, the most important is methodology.
  3. All medicine, ethical and unethical, and all science , for that matter, is ultimately a matter of guesswork.
  4. Charles S. Peirce (189-1914) developed a notion of reasoning backwards, called it abduction and defined it “contra Holmes”. Abduction provides a reasonable hypothesis as to what could be the case.
  5. The true tragedy of House is abductive reason run amok in the mind of a mad genius who, like all mad geniuses, must ultimately self-destruct.

It explains everything!

  1. Principle of Sufficient Reason states that there is a rational explanation for every event.
  2. House’s acceptance of PSR does not commit him to believing in supernatural explanations or any higher meaning behind the events.
  3. Three search criteria to decide which hypothesis is preferable:
    • Simplicity. Blaming stork for appearance of a baby is simpler than trying to understand complex biological reproduction, but that doesn’t make the hypothesis true. Occam’s Razor says, don’t assume any more than you need in order to explain data.
    • Elegance and Other Aesthetic Considerations. House hates when a beautiful explanation gets trampled by ugly facts.
    • Origin. House prefers his own hypothesis to those of others.
  4. Just because it is inexplicted doesn’t mean it’s inexplicable. House holds fast to the idea that his patients’ symptoms are indeed explicable, and he employs both standard scientific methods and more creative criteria to zero in on these reasons.

The Sound of One House Clapping: The Unmannerly Doctor as Zen.

  1. If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are. – Zen proverb. House’s rhetoric parallels certain forms of expression in Zen Buddhism.
  2. If nothing central to the situation is making sense, then to have a real understanding of the situation we have to find a wholly new way of making sense. And to find a wholly new way of making sense we need to start with not making sense in the familiar ways.
  3. House does not do what he does to produce a cure, but to find what the problem is. If his actions do directly produce  a cure, that’s an accidental by-product. His approach is to destabilize the situation repeatedly until an original insight emerges.
  4. He gives up control and strips others of control in ways that foster intense and very personal interactions.
  5. House is deeply flawed, yet he is also depicted as uniquely free. His utter commitment to his Zen rhetoric frees him to have insights into nearly unsolvable problems.

I didn’t see much philosophy in the essay on Sherlock Holmes and House. It was rather a straightforward comparison of the to and their deductive methods. I found the involvement of Doyle’s Gregson character a little too overstretched, but still curious. As for other parallels, I have no doubt that writers indeed drew from the great detective to create their vision of a modern, snarky, medical sleuth/genius. Zen theory didn’t really convinced me. I find House’s abusive and disruptive behavior anything but Zen, but if shaking things upside down is part of the belief, then who am I to argue? Not bad set of essays; I’m curious to find out a bit more.

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