This strategy has long roots. Some of our civilization ’s greatest chroniclers of the human condition have been doctor-narrators who chose to start telling stories : Anton Chekhov, William Carlos Williams, Walker Percy, Oliver Sacks — and now, gifted authors like Atul Gawande, Daniela Lamas (a Times Opinion contributor), Siddhartha Mukherjee and Vincent Lam. It has been a huge loss to the humanities, and to readers in general, that relatively few physicians consider themselves as storytellers. But perhaps that is beginning to change.

It’s worth noting that the most famous doctor in Covid-era America is a committed humanist. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, fell in love with the humanities in high school and majored in classics at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. When he pondered life after college, “there was this tension: Would it be humanities and classics, or would it be science? ” he told The New Yorker last year. “And as I examined that, it seemed to me that being a doctor was the perfect melding of both of these aspirations. ”

As these humanist M.D.s well know, history, philosophy and literature aren’t just good training grounds for an empathetic bedside manner. They shed light on the large questions of suffering and healing. However, it’s difficult to make the pitch that humanists have something meaningful to say about big questions when so many people have fallen prey to ever-narrower research interests and make no time for general exploration of the world.

C.P. Snow, an English novelist and chemist, wrote in his seminal 1959 lecture “The Two Cultures” the humanist intellectuals he understood dismissed scientists “as ignorant specialists” — yet many of them couldn’t specify the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Their own ignorance and their particular specialty are only as startling, he composed. The cultural authority of the hard sciences has mushroomed since Dr. Snow’s time — and humanists are paying a much higher price for their own parochialism.

What about the charge partly vindicated, I admit, by the few of radical postmodernists in our positions that humanists in academia downplay empiricism and proof, as The Lancet put it? It’s more accurate to say that humanists take evidence so badly that they highlight viewing it from multiple vantage points and recognizing one’s own limited perspective.

This epistemological caution has worth for medical professionals too. Like all specialists, they’re captive to their discipline’s current fallible paradigm and hidden assumptions. Such paradigms are crucial to scientific work, but at exactly the same time, a paradigm can “insulate the community from those socially important problems that aren’t reducible to the mystery form, since they can’t be stated concerning the conceptual and instrumental tools the paradigm provides,” Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher of science, composed in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. ”

Such an attitude is not well suited to cutthroat courses preparing students for board exams. What were studying in basic science classes is that this is objective, this is 100 percent correct, this is the only way to see it, Mr. Kessler, the medical student at Washington University, said. “The humanities could not be farther from that. There are many ways to interpret peoples cultural upbringings and translate their stories and seeing them in several lighting is important to providing everyone with equitable care. ”