“A man can have as many diseases as he damn well pleases.”

A while ago, in an apartment with friends in Melbourne. The weather much too rainy. Our souls much too battered. But, happy nonetheless to be together again and to be ‘away’.

These weekends – which don’t happen often enough (but also perhaps happen just exactly when they’re needed) – often turn into talk-fests of the best kind. Guaranteed at least one of us is at some kind of crossroads or needing to shake something up or release something.

I don’t recall exactly but I suspect one of these conversations led to the questions – But, is there a competing or opposite theory to Occam’s Razor? Do I really have to accept that this simplest of explanations for something must necessarily be true?

And lo and behold, Hickam’s Dictum.*

One expression of Hickam’s Dictum is the quote “A man can have as many diseases as he damn well pleases”. Basically, as I understand it, it suggests that there is not necessarily a single cause or explanation for a collection of symptoms (or situation – medical or otherwise). That possibly even if that specific collection could legitimately be traced back to that single cause in some scenarios – it doesn’t mean it’s the case in every case. There’s a really interesting article about it (from the point-of-view of a vet) here: https://drjintile.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/medicine-as-an-art-and-science/.

For me, the existence of Hickam’s Dictum felt like a kind of tick of approval from the world that I didn’t have to subscribe to the simple, the black&white, the answer that would close down possibilities. Though, simultaneously, I completely understood the appeal of slicing something nice and neat with Occam’s Razor. And that my overly complex approach to meaning and life wasn’t necessarily any more accurate for all its side-streets and branches. Then again:

“Maybe the hoofbeats are zebras more often than we think.”

I guess you can only really work it out in retrospect. Or not at all. I don’t know. Complexity is tiring.

In any case, I don’t know if it helps me in life but I do think it helps me in research. It reminds me that when putting together my ‘story’ of my research there are always going to be different interpretations of evidence that are possible. Different theories, different theses. That I’m not finding any kind of ‘truth’ – just a story, that may or may not be the only story that can be told. But that it should be a story that shifts, or deepens, or challenges in some way. It should be a story that reflects me and the research I’ve conducted. But a story that is also in conversation with the other stories that surround it. A conversation I can do. A conversation is something I am happy to be a part of.

So get writing Angela.

*Never actually called this from that initial moment of Googling on. Seemingly impossible combination of words to remember. More commonly referred to as Wickham’s Midget. Or Midgham’s Fidget. Or Macvilly’s Gambit. Or … you get the idea.

One thought on ““A man can have as many diseases as he damn well pleases.”

  1. You may be interested in Systems thinking and practice. I recently completed a free 8 hour course through http://www.open.edu/openlearn. Yes at any given time we could all tell versions of our stories- all correct at the time but they could be very different.

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