1. Simone, Joseph V. MD

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When I am asked whether I have any hobbies, I hesitate to answer because my hobby is reading the works of philosophers. It is not a common hobby and I usually receive a puzzled expression from the person who asked. I was introduced to philosophy in college and was fascinated, a feeling that never left me. Reading philosophy can be heavy going, but once in awhile a concept or idea turns a light bulb on in my head and I see a practical connection.

JOSEPH V. SIMONE, MD... - Click to enlarge in new windowJOSEPH V. SIMONE, MD. JOSEPH V. SIMONE, MD, has had leadership roles at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Huntsman Cancer Institute, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the University of Florida Shands Cancer Center, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, and the National Cancer Policy Board, and has served on the NCI's Board of Scientific Advisors.His

Currently, I am reading Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), an important and influential philosopher of the 20th century. If you will follow me for a couple of preparatory paragraphs, I will show you my light bulb.


Most of Heidegger's work in one way or another addresses the issue of what "being" is and what it means. In English, "being" essentially means existence: I am a being therefore I exist, or vice versa. By a "being" we usually mean a person or animal or even a table-that is, an individual existing with certain defining traits.


In Greek there are two separate words for being: one meaning "the thing which is"-roughly the same as our English meaning of being. The second word means "the 'Being' of that which is." I use a capital "B" to avoid confusion. French, German, and other languages also make this distinction. Heidegger has defined the second usage as critically important because it defines (or tries to) what it means to-be. Being as we use it in English is an abstract generalization and tells us nothing about the being in question.


Unlike many philosophers, Heidegger says that man does not look out at the external world as if through windows from the isolation of the body because the person is already outdoors. His Being is in the world because he is involved in it totally. Man's Being is not inside his skin, but is spread over the field or region that is the world of his care and concern. His Being, therefore, includes all that touches him through his senses or thoughts. That is what defines the Being of man. By analogy with Einstein's Field Theory of Matter, Heidegger takes man to be a field or region of Being.


Seeing "Being as a broad field" began to enter my thoughts a bit later as I was thinking about some of the positive aspects of getting older-for example, I believe I have become a bit wiser, more tolerant of people unlike me, and grateful for the long span of life than enables me to see what I could not see earlier.


That led me to the fact that I am an intimate part of four generations of people: grandparents, parents, my immediate family, and my children and their families. I know all of them well, and they are part of my Being and I am part of them. They are essential to what my Being is and what it means.


The same is true for the schools I attended, the jobs I have had, the institutions that have shaped me in one way or another. Can I be Joe Simone if I hadn't worked at St. Jude for 24 years? Not this Joe Simone. Can I be Joe Simone if my immigrant parents hadn't met in Chicago, married, and brought me into the world? No.


Looked at in this way, we can understand, to a degree, what Heidegger means, and it makes sense. Our history and experiences are an integral part of us, invisible connections similar to a magnetic field (without the magnet). Why does Heidegger feel he must make this point? Because most philosophy going back to the Greeks and Descartes ("I think, therefore I am") always dealt with being as a solitary individual that bounces around things and events in life and remains totally alone.


So the light bulb came on as I began to review my history. I more fully realized that I had a front row seat to watch the present and recall the past of my "Being" with a wide-angle lens. My Being influences many people and things, and I am, in turn, influenced by many people and things.


It is too bad that so many philosophers do not accept what Heidegger is driving at. Maybe that is a problem with philosophy-it can be too abstract and far removed from the practical aspects of life.


I am not certain, but I believe that if I polled ordinary people (not philosophers) and asked them what their Being was or what they were, the great majority would describe themselves and their families, occupations, experiences, beliefs, and all the things that mold them to be what they are. I believe most would cherish those things as an integral part of them, of their Being, and that they would be, as I am, grateful for having a front row seat to observe and experience their Being.


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