Skip to main content

Motivation Matters: A Socratic Inquiry into Frailty

Ravi Varadhan, PhD, PhD
Ravi Varadhan, PhD, PhD

Associate Professor of Oncology, Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Faculty Profile

"The unexamined life is not worth living," with these famous words which define the essence of the human endeavor, Socrates launched an intellectual revolution in ancient Greece. He urged his disciples and his critics to carefully examine their implicit assumptions and beliefs with regards to any given ethical, moral or political stance. He often exposed the fallacies and contradictions in the commonly held views by subjecting them to the "Socratic" scrutiny.

Even after 2500 years, the Socratic dialectic method is still the gold standard means of generating knowledge. In modern day science (defined broadly to include all branches of knowledge), the Socratic dialectic method is employed implicitly by means of peer-reviewed publications and various other modes of interactions between thinkers. There is no place for unexamined opinions and hypotheses in the arena of science.

Since my own scientific interest lies in elucidating the physiological basis of frailty, I imagined a dialogue between Socrates and myself where the great master is relentlessly probing me to better understand what frailty is! This is the genesis of the idea for my JAGS article. I went back to Plato's dialogues to see whether Socrates had anything to say about aging. There is not much in the Platonic literature on aging. It is only in The Republic, the magnum opus of Plato, that there is a reasonably lengthy discussion of aging between Socrates and Cephalus, who was a rich merchant of Athens.

Therefore, I decided to model my fictitious dialogue on the interchange between Cephalus and Socrates. Due to word limitations imposed by the journal, I could achieve neither the depth that is the hallmark of a Socratic dialogue nor the breadth that was needed in order to address the many critical issues in frailty science. In spite of its brevity and lack of depth, I hope you will find the paper stimulating.    

PubMed: A Socratic Inquiry Into the Nature of Frailty