Tuesday, 31 October 2017

procrustean bed

Reading about how medical research and treatment can at times be prone to assigning arbitrary standards and causation to particular diagnoses and projected outcomes that risks spoiling the investigation by latching itself to the serviceable led us to learn about a mutilating, rather gruesome classical metaphor: a Procrustean bed. A son of the sea god Poseidon, Procrustes was a highway man and demented blacksmith who ran a hostel on the trail between Athens and Eleusis. Inviting pilgrims to stop and rest, the demigod would show his guests to their accommodations, a bed that was inevitable too big or small for the hapless traveller. Procrustes would then proceed to adjust his guests to fit, stretching them tortuously or whittling them down to size. The hero Theseus finally dispatched this menace as his sixth and final labour by putting the monster to his own rack. Despite its horror-story roots, the reference is invoked quite a bit and in addition to the above criticism levied against medical science, the European Union in its relations to its member states is sometimes described as the same sort of arrangement. The notion of one size fitting all or reverse-tailoring also occurs in geometry and statistical analysis where data is chosen selectively in order to prove a proposition. Television editors also call on Procrustes when they are faced with the sore task of having to cut for time.