Revitalising Michel de Montaigne in the d- & e-patient movements

170622 PhilippaOn behalf of the Dahlborg Healthcare Leadership Group (DHLG), I am once again so very honored to share another impactful post written by my Global Listening Center (GLC) Healthcare Board colleague in Sweden, Philippa Göranson.



Revitalising Michel de Montaigne in the d- & e-patient movements

If one starts to roam the Internet for answers on why Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592) began writing what were to become his essays, one will find insinuations saying that his good friend La Boétie died. This has been understood to have made him melancholic. Some sources say his essays are written in his friend La Boétie’s memory. The idea of the horrors of war in his time is also an attempt to try to understand why he turned to the Stoic philosophers and then turned his life into philosophy and writing as a way of life. It has also been interpreted that Montaigne started to write these essays primarily to the King of France as a job application due to his previous failures in his political career. The King of France at the time was less fond of literature than a man who could represent him and France. Usually, in the humanities, no one says they know why he started writing and like to support the idea of turning it into a mystery. It is as if Michel de Montaigne was struck by magic and for no particular reason decided to retire to his library tower with the movements of his mind. Is there a secret to why he started writing? Not to me as a reader of Michel de Montaigne’s essays. To me, it has always been obvious from the first reading why he abdicated from the slavery of public service (on his own birthday, February 28th, 1571).

Michel de Montaigne starts his essays by telling his reader that it is a private book mostly written as something to himself and his close family and begs the reader to leave straight away.

“Reader, thou hast here an honest book: it doth at the outset forewarn thee that, in contriving the same, I have proposed to myself no other than domestic and private end. /—/ Thus, reader, myself am the matter of my book: there’s no reason thou shouldst employ thy leisure about so frivolous and vain a subject. Therefore farewell.” (1)

If the idea of privacy really was his intention why did he have his essays published while he was still alive? Michel de Montaigne has been perceived as having political motives with his essays. A recent biographer and historian, Philippe Desdain, says that the essays of Michel de Montaigne are applicable to significant events of his time. Philippe Desdain attempts to interpret Montaigne’s motives of writing to show off as a nobleman and that Montaigne’s essays are written for their immediate rela­tionship with the market. The essays correspond to particular expectations at the time and are at the same time also novelties that allow Montaigne to distinguish himself from others and to innovate with respect to codified social practices. Montaigne is interesting due to his predictability. He thinks and acts as others. These essays are social objects.

The essays of Michel de Montaigne can be interpreted as a form of autoethnography; that is to say a form of qualitative research in which an author uses self-reflection to explore their personal experience and connect this autobiographical story to wider, cultural, political and social meanings and understandings. Would Michel de Montaigne have liked the definition? He would prefer to be without it since his approach is to not let himself be defined.

“What I chiefly portray is my cogitations, a shapeless subject that does not lend itself to expression in actions. It is all I can do to couch my thoughts in this airy medium of words.” (2)

What kind of an event is a book?

This, in turn, leads to the question of what a book actually is. The author is the voice, but the meaning of a book involves a choir of interpretative factors that enable readers to decipher and enrich the authors’ meanings. Each interpreter continues to add his or her voice to the historical harmonisation in reshaping a book into an event. An event is the sum of their dominant interpretations. Is this really what Michel de Montaigne would have wanted us to do with his essays?

“I know not what to say to it; but experience makes it manifest, that so many interpretations dissipate truth and break it.” (3)

Michel de Montaigne is both reader and writer at the same time. In his way of writing, he does something untried – he transforms the reader and the writer into synonyms in a personal account. It is the beginning of what can be understood as a “Bildung” process long before the term was invented – this meaning education as the idea of personal freedom and development (the term Bildung emerged in the 19th century). His way of writing is to try. This is the name and concept of his brand new genre from the French word essayer: the essay (also derived from the French: assay from the word “apprantissage” in English: learning or apprenticeship).

Montaigne is part of the new order of the Renaissance and this period created a new way of quoting when writing by referring to the traditions of the ancient philosophers. His quotation technique and thought process consists of the reawakening of the philosophers, authors and rhetorical traditions from the old Greek and Latin antique cultures. All in all, his essays have 388 quotations in Latin, 18 quotes by antique Roman authors, 815 Latin quotations from 34 different antique Roman poets, 6 quotes by 6 new Latin poets, 8 quotes from antique Greek authors, 20 quotations from contemporary Italian authors and 12 quotes by 6 contemporary French authors of his time. These choices are very deliberate for a Renaissance reader. The Renaissance revitalised secular thought. The divine is deliberately left out. (4)

“Heaven is jealous of the extent that we attribute to the right of human prudence above its own, and cuts it all the shorter by how much the more we amplify it.” (5)

His way of writing is down to earth and reaches out to the ordinary reader as in a dialogue form of argumentation. Montaigne was part of the vanguard of the Renaissance movement and did what the Renaissance humanist movement was about – turning the thoughts of an elite culture into plain language to make it possible for anyone to criticise authoritarian thought and dogma. Montaigne admits to flickering around in his books, not really reading them thoroughly. He is not interested in who has said what. He is more concerned about finding good sense and thoughtfulness to inspire him to use to create his wisdom and to bounce his fun, irony, critical sense, free thought and expressions from and “knocking the arrogance of intellectuals”. (6) In his day his “free ranging essays were almost scandalous”. (7)

Michel de Montaigne is the patron of personal judgment through experience. Simplicity is his modus vivendi. His own conclusions on reading are that books only strengthen his rhetorical mannerisms – not his personality or personal growth. His essays are a fragmentary intellectual self-portrait in constant motion creating the idea of its own text universe. Any Montaigne reader will get the impression he is sitting somewhere in the same room and he is discussing openly and vividly.

The idea Montaigne had of begging the reader to get lost intrigued the physician and professor of literature and sciences Jean Starobinsky. In his book, Montaigne en mouvement, Starobinsky tries to grasp what kind of character Montaigne is throughout the whole writing process of the three volumes of his essays. Starobinsky seeks to unmask Montaigne as a hermeneutical process. Tries to discover and unveil how the writing process itself is a means of taming Montaigne. I am not convinced in the idea of taming Montaigne as in of understanding how his writing process set him free. Still, I have to credit to Starobinsky for showing how eligible Montaigne was concerning matters of medicine of his time. Jean Starobinsky praises Montaigne for elaborating on how to interpret the signs and symptoms of a disease and having an adequate value system to evaluate the options of a correct or incorrect diagnosis. Jean Starobinsky points out that Montaigne declares he has never even met three doctors who could reach the same conclusions on his medical condition. Jean Starobinsky points out that Montaigne realises it is better for him to find it out by himself. (8) Jean Starobinsky also reflects upon the authorities Montaigne deals with in meeting reason (law, theology, philosophy and medicine). How Montaigne never gives up on disputing authorities in favour of experiences of the self.


There is no mystery to why Montaigne embarked into his own intellectual self-portrait. Properly understood, it is as an intellectual side effect of his human condition. Two physicians, psychiatrist Jean Sarobinsky and nephrologist Alan Wasserstein, whom both have taken an interest in Michel de Montaigne’s essays have confirmed my own comprehension of why he left his public duty. The cores of Montaigne’s essays are inactivity and the sensation of awkwardness due to kidney disease, kidney stones (renal colic). His body is slowly deteriorating. This painful encounter forces him to isolation and gives him the point of view he needs to use writing to ease himself:

“Whoever has a mind to isolate his spirit, when the body is ill at ease. /…/ let him, by all means, do so if he can.” (9)

Physician, Alan Wasserstein is attentive toward Michel de Montaigne in his article on Montaigne as a kidney stone patient and reflects upon the importance of reading his essays to understand the patient experience through patient narrative. Montaigne as a medical humanities example is helpful in understanding why patients oppose medical tradition. Alan Wasserstein appreciates Montaigne for his warm humanism because it makes it easier to alienate from the medical abstract sense of modern biomedical jargon: “Medical humanism has taken on the general humanist sense of being grounded in everyday human experience – interpersonal communication, emotional engagement – in contrast not to the divine, but to science”. (10)

Richard Lehman, who reported the Alan Wasserstein essay in the British Medical Journal, has commented Alan Wasserstein interpretation of Michel de Montaigne. Richard Lehman comes to the conclusion that the fact that he was rendered ill transformed Montaigne in the course of his writing: “Montaigne’s constant bouts of renal colic mellowed his earlier, elitist Stoicism, making him into a broader and more compassionate humanist”. (11)

Alan Wasserstein tries to figure out what kind of patient Montaigne could have been if he were alive today:

“It is instructive to look back at an individual case, that of a man we might call the first modern humanist and, perhaps the greatest of humanists. His case is especially relevant because chronic illness may have played a decisive role in shaping his outlook. /—/ Montaigne was eminently a practical man, and were he alive today /…/ I can imagine his humanist attitudes persisting in the teeth of scientific medicine. I cannot see him submitting to a restrictive diet without a fight. I cannot see him, for that matter, submitting to ‘domineering’ physicians. He would take some or all of his care into his own hands.” (12)

Dr Rita Charon who propagates for the use of narrative medicine in clinical practice has portrayed some of the difficulties and if one thinks back at what Michel de Montaigne is so angry about – many patients are still struggling with the same problems today. See the following on the problem between current evidence based medicine (EBM) and narrative medicine:

“EBM proponents answer that clinician’s considerations of patient’s circumstances and values are not ignored by the model and that hierarchy of evidence is a scientific tool aimed at assisting physicians and not dictating to them. Nonetheless, even proponents agree that they have a poorer handle on how to factor clinical judgment and patient’s circumstances than they do how to judge the hierarchy of evidence.” (13)

The problems Michel de Montaigne encounters in his time are still the same many patients encounter today: hard to get the correct diagnosis or treatment, doctors do not always seem to be able to evaluate medical knowledge properly, a doctor does not know what the lived experience of disease is, the medical knowledge system is incomplete, as a patient one has to be critical to every piece of medical information, skeptical to how this information or knowledge is scientifically created, interpreted, applied and conducted.

If Michel de Montaigne were alive today, he would be in the forefront of the e-patient movement.

Physician and cancer patient Tom Ferguson and (1943 – 2006) coined the term e-patient in the 1980’s. The idea originated from the possibilities of the Internet as a source of information, communication and socialising.

The first generation e-patient Tom Ferguson created consists of a value system of concepts empowering patients:








In 1992, Tom Ferguson conceptualised three different patient identities:

Passive Patients

Concerned Consumers

Health-active, health responsible consumers

Passive Patients do not do much. Concerned Consumers might ask questions and try for a second opinion, but will go for what their doctor recommends. There is no doubt that Michel de Montaigne is the third and most active category: Health-active, health responsible consumer. This health responsible personality is determined to play an active role in his/her health and will never hesitate to disagree with their health advisors. They will explore alternative methods and holistic therapies. Understand medical treatments can be as hazardous as beneficial. If they are not satisfied with their doctor, they will not fear to seek several new opinions. They frequently seek additional information and ask the advice of their more experienced friends. They can consider the time to wait and see. When they are attained by illness, they refuse to play the victim and regard their diagnosis as a provocative challenge and as an opportunity to examine their lives. They express their emotions freely, ask questions and never hesitate to question their physicians’ suggestions or to criticise their physicians’ actions. (14)

Michel de Montaigne is a patient in control of himself and the situation and would make sure you get into contact with the physician that best suits your f(l)avour:

“If your physician does not think it good for you to sleep, to drink wine, or to eat such and such meats, never trouble yourself; I will find you another that shall not be of his opinion; the diversity of medical arguments and opinions embraces all sorts and forms.” (15)

One interpretation of Montaigne as part of mass media lets us know that: “Had he lived in the era of mass networked communication, he would have been astonished at the scale on which such sociability has become possible; not dozens or hundreds in a gallery, but millions of people seeing themselves bounced back from different angles” (16)

The digitalization of a Renaissance Man

Michel de Montaigne can be found on the digital Gutenberg Project on the Internet. He did not have the Internet, but the way he roams his private library can be seen as similar to anybody going out on the Internet for scientific knowledge and online self-diagnosis and then blog about it to help others. The principles are the same in his essay writing.

The idea of the Internet as a universal source of knowledge was coined for the first time in the 18th century by the German poet and philosopher Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich Leopold von Hardenberg 1772-1801) as he imagined an unlimited book. Expressed metaphorically, the Internet is the foresight in his dream. (17) The term ‘book’ needs to be redefined as a kind of shorthand that stands for many forms of written textual communication. A book in the digital age is expansive in thought and action. In the digital age, everybody can be everything at the same time: producer, author and consumer. The philosophers Gilles Deleuze (1925 – 1995) & Félix Guattari (1930 – 1991) have initiated the idea of the book as a machine. In their terms, the book as a machine is only of interest when one writes and is plugged into other books (the line of thought is the interconnecting blog-culture, lists of links on web pages, social media and the idea can be extended to open data sharing digital platforms). In the Deleuze and Guattari sense of a book or text, literature is explained as being an assemblage: “We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed.” (18)

The Gutenberg Project makes Montaigne part of a bigger current patient advocacy movement. Montaigne has the same kind of critique as many current day patients and patient advocates portray and argue vividly. He is just as sharp and critical to the circumstances he was witnessing as contemporary patient-bloggers are today. On reading the Chapters 12 “On Physionomy” and 13 “Of Experience” in the third volume of his essays I get the sensation of a highly health literate free thinker (some critics say he is not a freethinker – “as such people came to be known in the seventeenth century”, they say Montaigne is a practitioner of critical judgment). (19) Montaigne is not only on a high level of critical health literacy (seek out information and value the reliability, take responsibility for one’s own health and have a sense of one’s own health) he transcends into the higher position of political health literacy (health literacy is about social and political rights, access and transparency) since he unmasks the ideologies of scientific medical production of his time. His well-educated essay on his medical concerns and the inabilities of physicians are also a form of medical political debate and serious source criticism. Here again, Montaigne is a forerunner. The term health literacy was coined in American terms in 1974 to represent health education that can be understood by people at all grade levels. (20)

Next to come are some contemporary examples that would suit the mindset of Michel de Montaigne. In return and I hope he will suit these people and innovations as well. Enjoy!

e-patient Dave de Bronkart, sceptical to medical authority as Michel de Montaigne

“What should we do with those people who admit of no evidence that is not in print, who believe not men if they are not in a book, nor truth if it be not of competent age? we dignify our fopperies when we commit them to the press: ‘tis of a great deal more weight to say, “I have read such a thing,” than if you only say, “I have heard such a thing.” But I, who no more disbelieve a man’s mouth than his pen, and who know that men write as indiscreetly as they speak, and who look upon this age as one that is past, as soon quote a friend as Aulus Gelliusor Macrobius; and what I have seen, as what they have written. And, as ‘tis held of virtue, that it is not greater for having continued longer, so do I hold of truth, that for being older it is none the wiser. I often say, that it is mere folly that makes us run after foreign and scholastic examples; their fertility is the same now that it was in the time of Homer and Plato. But is it not that we seek more honour from the quotation, than from the truth of the matter in hand?” (21)

If one reads this Montaigne quote properly and studies what Dave de Bronkart is saying in his TED presentation, “Let patients help” on YouTube one can find similarities. Dave de Bronkart starts by presenting the concept Patients Rising (patients taking control of their own cases, go look for more information, define what the terms of one’s own success in healthcare is).

Dave de Bronkart is diagnosed with cancer and starts to roam the Internet. Quickly he realises the official WebMD information is seriously misleading. He knows from the Internet that if he finds any information he is not happy about he makes sure to go look for more. Just as Montaigne knows, personal judgment is better than medical authority; Dave de Bronkart learns that the best recommendations for him are found from people with personal experience of disease and the healthcare system. Dave de Bronkart gets relevant information on how to proceed and why by people living with disease. Other patients from online patient groups explain what the correct orders of treatments are and what treatments to never even attempt. No doctors had ever explained themselves in this manner. In addition, and most surprisingly of all – the correct information is not even found on official medical WebPages on the Internet.

If Dave de Bronkart just had done as he had been told in healthcare, to start with he would not have been alive today. Patient groups and the Internet saved his life. Today he is a very active participant on the Society for Participatory Medicine (former

PatientsLikeMe Lithium study on why one cannot trust science just as Montaigne has been aware of all the time

“Most of the instructions of science to encourage us herein have in them more of show than of force, and more of ornament than of effect.” (22)

Vice President of Innovation at PatientsLikeMe, Paul Wicks, tells the story of the Lithium study that was conducted by engaged ALS patients on the PatientsLikeMe open data sharing facility for patient reported outcomes (PROM). In 2008, an Italian clinical study claimed to have used Lithium to stop the progression of ALS symptoms. The problem with this study is that it contained only 16 positive results regarding Lithium for ALS patients. A number of ALS patients asked their doctors to prescribe the drug based on this study off the record. Many patients started reporting their dosage, side effects and outcomes on the PatientsLikeMe platform to see if this was really working. Anybody who could get hold of the drug for ALS could participate, thus completely turning the usual culture of medical trial around. All the data was available for free on the Internet as the study continued. The PatientsLikeMe study found that the Italian clinical study from 2008 was false. Many died, but their data lives on. This PatientsLikeMe trial has been published in Nature Biotechnology. (23) This PatientsLikeMe Lithium study has also been granted a Wikipedia entry. (24)

This PatientsLikeMe example is a symptom of the politics in science and this critique can easily be found on the Internet. That is to say, drug companies and academic clinical research (25) selectively choose to publish studies that seem positive where the numbers of patients in these studies are too low. (26) It is essential for patients to know what is going on and what is working or not and why so. A few years ago I went to an evening lecture at Filosoficirkeln (open lectures of philosophical inquiry) in Lund and there a Professor of practical ethics at Lund University, Dan Egonsson, explained the drug companies only have to show 30% positive result on a drug before it can be released on the market. I do not know if this has changed since of what is going on, or if any patient advocates are arguing for a higher percentage (but I might find something one day if I go roaming on the Internet). The policy of informed consent is at stake and patients should really know when to decline treatment beforehand. This kind of information is usually not offered in the medical setting. The e-patient movement will hopefully help change the culture of healthcare where more demanding patients are just as natural as any patient safety measure. Michel de Montaigne would be first to approve.

Digital solution Montaigne would have appreciated since it puts a holistic patient experience at the centre of medical research

“What if knowledge trying to arm us with new defences against natural inconveniences, has more imprinted our fancies their weight and greatness, than her reason and subtleties to secure us from them?” (27)

The word nobism coincides with Montaigne’s interpretation of medical professionals: to excel in utter stupidity. This word has also been given a new identity by inviting the Latin word nobis (for us) to rest next to the letter m for medical in a new initiative to give patients, healthcare providers and medical research a better understanding of what the patient journey is like. The solution nobism also offers a holistic view of everything the patient is up to in the course of a disease and recovery.

Nobism is one example of the big variety of e-patient solutions available today. Nobism does more than just collect information for personal use. Nobism goes one step further. Nobism also makes sure the information on the whole picture of a patient journey is furthered to researchers who often never have the full picture of the patient outcomes from the time of not getting the correct diagnosis, to what diagnosis and treatments were wrongly tried to the next step in the correct diagnosis and which different treatment options worked out, how the disease developed over time and the changes for better or for worse, to matters of lifestyle, diet, supplements, vitamins, alternative treatment options. “The more a patient knows of their symptoms, medicine use and all they do to feel better, the better they can make decisions for future treatments”, because “most specialists have no detailed information about this”. (28) The idea is to get a better view on symptoms, medication use, vitamins or therapy. Researchers get better information about day-to-day remedies patients use to feel better to help create better long-term medical solutions.

dPatient Ulrika Sandén – Patient Voice – Not trusting doctors’ opinion, Montaigne wouldn’t either 

“The arts that promise to keep our bodies and souls in health promise a great deal; but, withal, there are none that less keep their promise. And, in our time, those who make profession of these arts amongst us, less manifest the effects than any other sort of men; one may say of them, at the most, that they sell medicinal drugs; but that they are physicians, a man cannot say.” (29)

If you took the time to read this Michel de Montaigne quote and read the following patient experience story you will see patients have to oppose to the same dysfunctional knowledge processes Montaigne accuses doctors of in his own time.

Cancer patient Ulrika Sandén gives the tale of her patient journey where the typical discrediting gender interpretations are applied at first (a woman is not considered a body – only a dysfunctional psyche). The first thought she had become schizophrenic due to some kind of explosions in her head. No such disease was found. Later on, symptoms progress and one of her arms starts jumping and moving strangely in ways she couldn’t control. She got to see a neurologist and at the time, nothing is found so the immediate conclusion is panic attacks. She tried several therapies for several years and nothing helps. Later on, her whole body is shaking. Her GP wants to send her back to the neurologist, but she opposes and thinks nothing can be done. The difference in the part of this story is that the GP knows the patient and does not look upon her as a stick figure as previous doctors had been doing. The GP had never noticed any of the psychological issues others were trying to pin on her. The GP sends the patient to get an MR and a benign cyst is found and she is given epileptic medication. The medicine seemed to work for a short time but she continued to worsen. The next attempt interprets her as having migraine and she is given other medication and recommendations on how to live her life. After a few weeks, nothing helped – as usual. She went to the Emergency Room but they said they could not help her said they could only send her to a neurologist but there was none on duty. She tries a new GP who could not understand what she had and made sure she was admitted to the Emergency Room. This GP put patient safety before organisation. While in the hospital, she was fragmentized again. She then demanded a second opinion. The second opinion responded that she has a low malignant in the brain and surgery was performed. The core line of her story is that as a patient one has to be able to dare to oppose medical authority to get the correct diagnosis. To a patient, the health care system can be compared to as going to war on the system itself. It is paramount to find medical professionals who can go against standardised ways of thinking and reasoning.

Ulrika Sandén explained herself in the regional newspaper for Scania, Sydsvenskan, in these terms: “I would not have been alive today if I only had done as I was told in healthcare. Unfortunately, this is what healthcare looks like today”. (30)

This coming trimester, she will be part of the first university course in Sweden on patient empowerment for cancer patients and their next-of-kin within the field of Design Sciences at Lunds Tekniska Högskola (LTH). Ulrika Sandén has also written the first Swedish dPatient research report on cancer patients from a patient’s perspective. Her report, “På okänt cancervatten” (31) (navigating the unknown sea of cancer) is currently only in Swedish.

Comments added after publication:

Just as Montaigne thought in his time words are fluid mediums, sort of, like clouds changing their formations as they float across the sky, and a blog entry is always open toward discussion.

dPatient stands for Designpatient and is currently the highest level in the patient movement. dPatients influence the design of medical trials and operate on both structural and process level on the healthcare system to redesign it to make it more functional toward patients. (There is a second generation to the e-patient concepts encourage change on similar levels and other topics concerning healthcare research and medical education. I can write about this in more Linkedin posts to come. At the present, there are a lot of different attempts going on in the world. Trying to interpret and understand them from all their different angels on similarities and differences is a very interesting task.)

Ulrika Sandén after reading this piece would like to expand the conceptualization to tmdPatients (think more than doctors Patient)…

Patient-blogger Fabian Bolin on why blogging is an existential necessity just as Montaigne has known all along… 

“We trouble life by the care of death, and death by the care of life: the one torments, the other frights us. It is not against death that we prepare, that is too momentary a thing; a quarter of an hour’s suffering, without consequence and without damage, does not deserve especial precepts: to say the truth, we prepare ourselves against the preparations of death. Philosophy ordains that we should always have death before our eyes, to see and consider it before the time /…/The whole life of philosophers is the meditation of death.’ Cicero.” (32)

If you read the Montaigne quote and take the time to understand what cancer blogger Fabian Bolin says you will learn that any disease is a threat to human freedom that needs to be addressed. Philosophy – or reflecting on life and death cannot be avoided. The emotions and melancholy disease give that new kind of understanding of life must never be suppressed and still this how patients at times are addressed. Fabian Bolin starts his presentation by looking at us and explains the situation of when someone asks how things are and what would happen if he just said things are really bad. People do not want to respond verbally to it and it is not common in Sweden to express oneself openly about the idea of the backside of life – about wanting to die. Instead, the most common question he gets is if chemotherapy is painful and people try to tell him to stop blogging. People tell him to calm down and focus on rehabilitation instead. What people do not seem to understand is that his patient-blogging is his existential rehabilitation.

Fabian Bolin explains that thanks to his blogging, he has been able to live – not just survive – through this whole cancer experience. Cancer is a mental trauma to both patient and next-of-kin. This should be common knowledge in healthcare, but during his whole stay in the hospital no medical professional – doctor or nurse – even once asked him how he felt.

Fabian Bolin won the Swedish CancerRehabFund journalistic prize in 2015 for the best reporting of the year on cancer as experience and rehabilitation. (33) It is from his experience he and his best friend Sebastian Hermelin has initiated the digital platform WARONCANCER to gather as many cancer-patient narratives they can.

Patient-blogger Funkisfeministen on why Dr Google is a better option than healthcare professionals in the same critical stance as Montaigne 

“I had rather understand myself well in myself, than in Cicero. Of the experience I have of myself, I find enough to make me wise.” (34)

The Swedish patient-blogger with the nickname Funkisfeministen has explained why Googling is better than health care professionals. First of all, because the health care system is not updated. She was diagnosed with a rare disease and the people she meets in the health care setting aren’t even interested in trying to get updated on what she has. Even patient association home pages are not updated enough on the latest research. She has to find out by herself what she needs to know on her condition on the Internet. In her case, Googling is the best alternative: “As long as healthcare professionals are not able to contribute to better knowledge amongst themselves or towards patients, it is not at all encouraging to have to do with healthcare professionals who mock patients that go looking for information by themselves” (35)

Wrongly diagnosed Twitter microblogger @livetsbilder on why it is impossible to trust what a healthcare system is up to just as Montaigne has been arguing since the 16th century

“Science, indeed, does us one good office in instructing us exactly as to the dimensions of evils.” (36)

Microblogger LivetsBilder on Twitter added to the general disappointment of medical practice with a statement of fake news. Physical activity is recommended for patients who can’t even move. The discussion that follows on her Twitter account to her outburst is the usual critique of medical culture as inconsistent, non-attentive and with no concern for a person centered approach. The medical mind here is just a means of evil when care is proclaimed in general terms. The problem this patient has encountered is that she is wrongly diagnosed. The medical professionals closest to her deny the diagnosis she has even exists. Professionals who understand and can diagnose her properly are out of reach and she is too ill to even be able to take the trip to get her medical documentation in order (her description and documentation was sent by post there). On top of this distress, the Swedish government has passed legislation that makes one lose one’s job if one is not rehabilitated properly to return to work. The strangest things, in this case, are that her medical documentation is incorrect and she has been denied funding for sick leave. The paradox she is in is beyond surrealism: at the same time as her documents do not grant her public sick leave, she is rendered unemployed by the same incorrect medical documentation.

Michel de Montaigne as a reflection in the age of blogging

Should be Montaigne considered a voluntary, involuntary or just belated blogger on the digital Gutenberg Project? The Swedish author Bodil Malmsten (1944 – 2016) plays with the idea of Montaigne as a blogger in her own blogging. The idea of self-writing actually makes many autobiographical-like writers seem as one or other form of Montaigne. Bodil Malmsten at least thinks Montaigne would have come up with a new concept for the word blog Bodil Malmsten can’t stand. Why not just let Michel de Montaigne himself become a generic term: Montaignesque. And this is the problem. Montaigne would prefer to be left as an open free association. Whatever term one tries to apply to him “it is far too sterile a term for the mind of Michel de Montaigne running after itself, arguing against argument, reading his thoughts and his ageing body.” (37)

Montaigne refurnished his tower to suit his closest needs: reading, writing and sleeping: “When Montaigne moved his books to the third floor of the tower, he moved a bed to the floor below”. (38) Space for free ranging thought depends on a way of time off where one can let one’s thought progress at ease and leisure and for pleasure no matter the circumstances. On Twitter I have come across quite a few microbloggers who are so ill they cannot leave their beds. They spend some of their conscious time from their beds on the 140-character space on Twitter and they are just as angry as Michel de Montaigne in his time about the medical profession and their lack of knowledge and understanding. This at least helps them get in touch with other co-patients and the informed society… Twitterpatients are often heartwarmingly spontaneous, seriously concentrated thought or exclaim outraged criticism. There are no limits to say where an essay begins or ends. Tweets by @sosadtoday have been transformed into a published essay (example: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder) (39). There is no limit to what an essay can be and we just have to thank Montaigne for starting to write without an adequate literary term. The Internet and social media grant the similar freedom from rigidity Montaigne would approve of.

The last words of encouragement from Michel de Montaigne

The last words and citation in Michel de Montaigne’s essay will also finish my essay on revitalising him in this current patient movement. He wishes happiness and good health to all:

“Let us recommend that to God (Apollon), the protector of health and wisdom, but let it be gay and sociable:

“Frui paratis et valido mihi/Latoe, dones, et precor, integra/Cum mente; nec turpem senectam/Degere, nec Cithara carentem.”

[“Grant it to me, Apollo, that I may enjoy my possessions in good health; let me be sound in mind; let me not lead a dishonourable old age, nor want the cittern.”—Horace, Od., i. 31, 17.]

[“Grant it to me, Apollo, that I may enjoy what I have in good health; let me be sound in body and mind; let me live in honour when old, nor let music be wanting.”]” (40)

©Philippa Göranson, Linkedin, Lund, Sweden, July 21, 2017


FYI: in this reference list the media I have used are embedded so you can see for yourself – if they do not appear just Google and you will find…


Backwell, Sara, How to Live or A Life of Montaigne, Other Press, New York, 2010

Berkowitz, Joe, ”Why So Sad Today Is The Only Twitter Book That Might Save Lives”The Fast Company, March 18, 2016

Bolin, Fabian, “Verkligheten ingen vågar prata om”,

The Book of Life, “Michel de Montaigne”The School of Life

de Bronkart, Dave, “Let Patients Help”, TEDxMaastricht,, April 7, 2011

CancerRehabFonden, “CancerRehabFondensJournalistpris 2015”, Stockholm

Charon, Rita & Wyer, Peter, “Narrative evidence based medicine”The Lancet, 26 January, 2008

Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix, a thousand plateaus/capitalism & schizophrenia, The Athlone Press, London, 1999

Desdain, Philippe, Montaigne: A Life, Princeton University Press, 2017

Engdahl, Horace, “Tredje sidan: Jaget går vilse bland monstruösa gestalter. Litteraturforskaren Jean Starobinski talar förnuft med Montaignes melankoliska essäer”,Kultur & Nöje, Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm, 1995-01-19

Ferguson, Tom, ”Patients, Heal Thyself: Health in the Information Age”, The Futurist, January-February, 1992 (digital on Questa magazine or Google title)

Foglia, Mark, “Michel de Montaigne”, Oppy, Graham & Trakakis, N. N. (Ed.), Early Modern Philosophy of ReligionVolume 3, The History of Westerns Philosophy of Religion, Routledge, London & New York, 2009

Goldacre, Ben, “Why doctor’s don’t know about the drugs they prescribe”, TED Talks, Youtube, September 27, 2012

Funkisfeministen, “Den googlande patienten – har vi något val?”, August 23, 2016

Hyman, Mark, “Why Antidepressants Don’t Work for Treating Depression”Huffpost, the blog, November 17, 2011

Kniivilä, Kalle, “Cancerdrabbade får egen universitetskurs”, Sydsvenskan, 14 April, 2017 (Sveriges Radio P1 about this course)

Kramer, Jane, “Me, Myself and I – What made Michel de Montaigne the first modern man?”The New Yorker, September 7, 2009

Lehman, Richard, “Humanist of the Week: Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592”, From The BMJ Opinion, June 10, 2007

Livets Bilder; ”Idag är en sån där dag när jag ser mer rött när fysisk aktivitet presenteras som boten på allt. Mirakelmedicin som gör alla friska! #FakeNews”, July 14, 2017

Malmsten, Bodil, Loggböcker 2003-2015, Modernista, Stockholm, 2016

Minto, Robert, “The myth of the apolitical Montaigne”, Los Angeles Review of Books, July 3, 2017

de Montaigne, Michel, Essays, Gutenberg Project, Translation by Charles Cotton, Edited by William Carew Hazlitt, 1877

Nordin, Svante, Förlåt jag blott citerar, Bokförlaget Nya Doxa, Nora, 2001

Persson, Magnus, Den goda boken, Studentlitteratur, Lund, 2012

Sandén, Ulrika, ”Patient Voice Ulrika Sandén Thursday”, Wonca Europe Conference 15-18 June 2016, Copenhagen, Denmark

Sandén, Ulrika, ”På okänt cancervatten”, Designvetenskaper, Lunds Tekniska Högskola, Lunds Universitet, 2016

Sharpe, Mattew, ”Guide to the classics: Michel de Montaigne’s Essays”The Conversation, November 1, 2016

Starobinsky, Jean, Montaigne i rörelse, Atlantis, Stockholm, 1994 (Original title: Montaigne en mouvement)

Wasserstein, Alan, G., “Lessons in Medical Humanism: The Case of Montaigne“, From: Annals of Internal Medicine, Volume 146, No 11 (pgs. 809-813), 5 June 2007

Wicks, Paul, ”Your data is doing good: The Lithium Study”, PatientsLikeMe, December 18th, 2015

Quizlet, Health Literacy


(1) de Montaigne, Book 1, Ch. 1

(2) de Montaigne, Michel

(3) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 13

(4) Nordin, Svante, 2001

(5) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 12

(6) The Book of Life, XXXX

(7) Sharp, Mattew, XXXX

(8) Starobinsky, Jean, 1994

(9) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 13

(10) Wasserstein, Alan, 2007

(11) Lehman, Richard, 2007

(12) Wasserstein, Alan, 2007

(13) Charon, Rita & Wyer, Peter 2008

(14) Ferguson, Tom, 1992

(15) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 13

(16) Backwell, Sara, 2010

(17) Persson, Magnus, 2012

(18) Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix 1999

(19) Foglia, Marc, 2009

(20) Quizlet; July 2017

(21) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 13

(22) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 12

(23) Wicks, Paul, 2015

(24) Wikipedia, July 2017

(25) Goldacre, Ben, 2012

(26) Hyman, Mark, 2011

(27) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 12

(28), July 2017

(29) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 13

(30) Sydsvenska Dagbladet, 2017


(32) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 12

(33) Cancerrehabfonden, 2015

(34) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 13

(35) Funkisfeministen, 2016

(36) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 12

(37) Kramer, Jane, 2009

(38) Kramer, Jane, 2009

(39) Berkowitz, Joe, 2016

(40) de Montaigne, Michel Book 3, Ch. 13


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