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J Med Biogr. 2014 Jul 1. pii: 0967772014533053. [Epub ahead of print]

Medical semiotics; its influence on art, psychoanalysis and Sherlock Holmes.

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  • 1Medical Humanities Department, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland


Semiotics is the analysis and interpretation of signs and the basis of medicine since antiquity. It is suggested that the growth of technology has led to the virtual eclipse of the clinical examination with consequent loss of skill, empathy and patient trust. This paper views the value of medical semiotics through the method of the 19th century Italian doctor, Giovanni Morelli, which has had a significant but little recognised impact on the early development of psychoanalysis, the detective novel and art connoisseurship. Semiotics and, specifically, the linguistic semiotics of Ferdinand Saussure have been influential in the fields of the visual arts, literature and the social sciences since the 20th century. With its roots in the medical treatises of antiquity, medical semiotics should again be brought to the forefront of medical practice.

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Arthur Conan Doyle; Carlo Ginzberg; Giovanni Morelli; Morelli; Morelli Method; Sherlock Holmes; Sigmund Freud; psychoanalysis

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