Holmes, Bar Review, and the mechanical nature of the human mind

One of the peculiar joys of writing a thesis on Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (that's the Supreme Court Justice, not the doctor and fireside poet) was getting the chance to read through a lot of his personal papers and diaries. Among his collected Civil War writings is the following observation, which I relate verbatim:

Holmes was wounded thrice during the course of the Civil War. At the early skirmish at Ball's Bluff he was shot through the chest (the bullet penetrated his left breast and came out his right). At the battle of Antietam he was shot through the neck (the bullet came in the back and out the front; miraculously it did not sever any veins, his throat, or his spinal cord). Then in a skirmish shortly before the battle of Chancellorsville he sustained a wound to his foot from some artillery shrapnel.

The heel wound, while the least potentially deadly (though, of course, he risked having to have the foot amputated) was the wound which put him out of commission for the longest. During his lengthy convalescence he was allowed to return home, where he visited with old friends and family, before eventually returning to the front.

Upon his return to duty, he observed to a friend that he had developed a theory of the mechanical nature of the human mind. That is to say, that the individual human mind is not so unique or interesting as we would like to believe, but rather everyone thinks along pretty much the same lines and has largely the same thought process. His evidence for this was that, without fail, whenever he encountered someone and told them of his heel injury, they made some joke about Achilles, and each in his turn thought themself the cleverest person on Earth.

This brings me to the subject of Bar Review. Not the course that most students take at the end of their law school years, but rather the clubs that exist on every single Law School campus in the nation. Bar Review, the club, is a group of students that go out drinking every week to different bars. You see, it's a sort of pun, because they're law students, and bar review is an activity associated with law school, but here Bar is used in a different sense, to mean a drinking establishment. And every law school has one; each one has independently come up with the idea that they should deploy this lame pun to identify their drinking society, and each one doubtless thinks they are the cleverest folk on Earth for having come up with the idea.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on August 31, 2005 10:58 PM.

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