Bernard……..a lousy scholar ?

So….this is the first of the many themes and ideas raised by readers…

‘How did someone like Claude Bernard, who displayed such poor scholastic performance become one of the world’s greatest scientists? ’

Yes, interesting. He failed his bac twice in the Beaujolais (and at excellent colleges), and only just achieved it in Paris when it became crucial for entry into medical school. The literature abounds with similar stories. Thomas Edison, Hans Christian Andersen, Albert Einstein and Richard Branson – and many others – had serious scholastic shortcomings, but nevertheless made it to the top. Dyslexia has been suggested for some such instances, but lacking most of the characteristics of that condition, I doubt whether this was the cause of Bernard’s difficulty.

I believe that his early downfall might have been due to his obsession with Romanticism, supplemented by a tendency to fantasize and daydream (often mentioned in regard to others who achieve greatness following poor academic beginnings). In his youth, Bernard embraced and worshipped Romanticism in all its forms (with the possible exception of music). His literary hero was Victor Hugo and a print by Delacroix – the archetypal Romantic artist – accompanied him throughout his life.  Both the plays that Bernard wrote in his early years, Rose du Rhone and Arthur de Bretagne were also key examples of this passion.

‘Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary and the transcendental’ (Encyclopedia Brittanica).

None of these elements sit comfortably with high-level academic performance!

Only at age 19, when his parents sent him – in desperation – to the College of Thoissey was he taught philosophy, and in particular Descartes’ emphasis on the importance of doubt. This rapidly became his guiding principle: evident when he began his apprenticeship in pharmacy, dominant during his medical studies, and then fundamental to his research principles during his professional life.

Any other thoughts?


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