Florence was the ideal location for a conference aiming to ‘bridge the gap between biology and the humanities’. The city and its art encourage reflection, and we were reminded here that at the time of the Renaissance the art/science dichotomy didn't exist — artists, philosophers and ‘scientists’ trod a common path to try to increase their understanding of what it means to be human.
The best presentations here were the ones that challenged expectations, altered perspective and made us reflect on what we do. For instance, I can cry at the movies as well as the next man, but dabbing my eyes while watching a clip from The Lion King was, erm, unexpected. The Brazilian Gonzalez Blasco led us here during an inspiring presentation on the use of film to teach family medicine. I've seen the film before many times with my children, but it, and Elton's saccharine soundtrack, has always just wafted over me like a dull draft. With protected time, an educational context and a charismatic facilitator surprising things can happen.
Perhaps a more enduring cultural discovery will be that of the painter Willem de Kooning, introduced by a Dutch group in a session on chronic somatisation disorder. At first sight his art, like these patients, is just a big colourful mess but with ‘active looking’ and thought recognisable patterns emerge.
Later, ‘reflecting’ over a cold beer in the magnificent Piazza della Signoria, I watched the crowds milling around David, Michelangelo's enduring symbol of human perfection. Despite the humility temporarily afforded him by a pigeon defecating on his head, he stands selfconfident and determined. By contrast the chaos of life underneath seems vulnerable and ephemeral.
I've learnt a lot here, I'm just not sure what it is. But when I get back to work, I feel it's going to help.