The pen is mightier than the sword.
Words are indeed very powerful, which means we should be careful how we use them.
In the mid 1980s when artificial intelligence (AI) had a temperature well above normal limits, personal studies brought me to the words that represent commands in expert system and artificial intelligence applications. The question - how might language influence our expectations of such programs? In what was a major personal project at the time (which never saw the light of day - but whose effects may be evident in the main website and this blog?) I discovered and referenced work on problems discussed by McDermott (1985).
This included the choice of mnemonics used in AI programs, with McDermott comparing the mnemonics in two systems - Planner and Conniver.
True: things have moved on - but history, history....
Planner : Conniver
GOAL : FETCH & TRY-NEXT
CONSEQUENT : IF-NEEDED
ANTECEDENT : IF-ADDED
THEOREM : METHOD
ASSERT : ADD
Upon executing 'GOAL' or 'THEOREM' into a computer 'you can just feel the power at your fingertips. It is, of course, an illusion.'
'If a researcher tries to write an "understanding" program, it isn't because he has thought of a better way of implementing this well understood task, but because he thinks he can come closer to writing the first implementation.' Ibid.
Legally, today the world is very different and yet without care extreme enthusiasm and the market may blur our vision and (rather ironically) dull our reason; McDermott observes that:
'If he calls the main loop of this program "UNDERSTAND" he is (until proven incorrect) merely begging the question.' Ibid. p.144.
I believe there is a similar lesson in terms of 'holistic care'.
As the track is swept and the starting blocks are put in place for decision making in the clinical forum - what sense are the users to make of the language used? Will eagerness to engage ("wow!") the user community cause a false start and what might the impact be?
Words are like sub-atomic particles: strange, ordered, chaotic, true, honest, noisy, quixotic.
Repeat some over and over and they become nonsensical.
to become belief-bearing,
an energetic property with a sharp edge that can turn the tide of history
(departmentally, locally, nationally and globally).
Here are (just) two reasons why holistic care has proved so elusive:
- It is easy to add 'holistic' into care and ward/service philosophies and policies.
- Actually measuring holistic care is not straightforward, but the measures should be specified as the word is first used - enacted. (If the service in question has someone working in a professional practice development role this might well fall to them.)
If such a thing is possible an evaluation of 'holistic bandwidth' would of course need to be done at upon completion of a care episode. Maybe there is a test...?
While physicists struggle on with it - perhaps String theory can assist us? More to follow....
McDermott D (1985) Artificial Intelligence Meets Natural Stupidity, In MIND DESIGN, Haugeland J (Ed), MIT Press, London, p.144-145.
(I hope the quote is correct - old notes - and no time to check, but you have the gist).