Diagnoses of our Fathers

Reading about Champollion on the ‘pedia, the other day, I came across the following passage, describing his death:

Exhausted by his labors during and after his scientific expedition to Egypt, Champollion died of an apoplectic attack (stroke) in Paris on the 4th of March 1832 at the age of 41.

So it seems exhaustion had been a very common cause of death among 19th century travelers. I remember seeing it referenced in the short biographies of many such people, included in children’s books telling of faraway lands and of the age of explorations.

Yeah, are my sources reliable enough to merit the mere existence of this post? Not sure. But I still think 19th century doctors and biographers diagnosed after the style of their time, with the limited understanding of science and of medicine they possessed then. And exhaustion seemed to make sense, back then. Attrition, erosion, all very common in the world of steam engines, for instance.

Which brings me to Emmanuel Kant and the anecdotal report I have of his later days from a friend of mine who had studied philosophy (fact checking will follow soon, I promise). It seems his mental faculties had experienced a decline towards the end of his career, and he had no longer been able to produce work as brilliant as his earlier stuff….. which led some of his friends to posit that he had exhausted himself doing his early work until, finally, he had ran out of “brain-mojo” completely.

The little engine that finally went “boom”. Well, today we know of infectious diseases and of microbes, of viruses and of prions. I will also be suggesting, in future articles, that the mechanism which records experiences within the human brain can become ‘bogged down’ by the accumulation of too many negative experience over a lifetime, that, in fact, we have a sort of an emotional expiration date set by the structure of our brain. And strangely enough, in Kant’s case, at least, we are coming full circle here: in a way his great intellect had, indeed, been a victim of attrition, only the mechanism had not been one of simple overwork. Not too much thinking was what got him, to put it simply, but another mental process we are still not fully aware of, one that has an echo in folklore, in that famous line about love:

The first cut is the deepest

Later on that. For now,

Peace out.

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