Marinos Dalakas: Spiritual health requires bliss

By | May 2, 2023

“Comat patients were walking after two months.” It is December 1, 2022 and I am watching online the speech of Marinos Dalakas at the presentation of the book “Paths of Understanding” by the academic, mathematician and doctor Thanasis Fokas. I keep this phrase from the Emeritus Professor of Neurology at the University of Athens and Interim Professor of Neurology, Director of Neuroimmunology and Neuromuscular Diseases, Thomas Jefferson University, USA. The professor, very calm and friendly, with a sophistication more typical of an artist Or a man of letters. Interlocutors from the Academy of Athens tell me about the story of Mr. Dalakas, about an important trip in the USA, about the obstacles he faced in Greece when he decided to contribute to the modernization of the field of neurology at the University of Athens , where he was elected professor in 1997, on his return to the US, the new return to Greece in 2007 and his reappointment as professor of neurology at EKPA for the second time in 2013.

Professor Dalakas tried 25 years ago, but failed, to contribute to the modernization of neurology in Greece by creating a clinic at the Aiginite Hospital with young Greek scientists, leaders in their specialty, who would also return to our country from the main universities abroad. Perhaps there is no point in digging up these stories again, let’s say that, despite the support of the late psychiatry professor Kostas Stefanis, some obstacles appeared in the choice of the Greeks who will come from abroad and the plan was aborted.

The important thing is that in 2007, when he decided to return for the second time, the US National Institute of Health awarded almost a million dollars worth of instruments for the professor to “build” his laboratory at the University of Athens. And today, for 15 years, this laboratory has offered pioneering tests that guide patients towards innovative treatments for neuroautoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, paraneoplastic syndromes, limbic and autoimmune encephalitis. Treatments so effective that even comatose patients whose condition is due to these diseases can wake up and lead a normal life after proper diagnosis and treatment.

– Why did you become a doctor? And why is the brain forced to look for the “why”?

– My parents wanted me to become a civil engineer. But I believed that medicine has many mysteries. I was immediately drawn to medicine. In school at first I briefly went through different fields of medicine, but neurology opened my mind and heart, I loved it immediately. I wanted to answer all the “why’s.” Why do we think like this, why do our eyes move like this, why do we walk like this? Why are we drawn to whys? Because that’s how we’re made.

– You said that you are emotional. What does “I’m emotional” mean? Does the brain of the emotional person work differently? Or is it a matter of culture?

– It is a question of culture. We have not found that there is a center of sentimentality. Perhaps there is a center of bliss. However, it is more a matter of culture. How you have been educated since childhood to value and love something. And the more you love, the more emotional you become. If hate and jealousy leave us, then we are all emotional.

– Is being emotional a manifestation of intelligence? Does it take intelligence to let your feelings express themselves?

– Possibly yes. But you don’t get excited about the show. Because then you reach the limits of narcissism.

I wanted to answer all the “why’s.” Why do we think like this, why do our eyes move like this, why do we walk like this? Why are we drawn to whys? Because that’s how we’re made.

– Is it difficult for such a successful teacher to avoid narcissism?

– No, narcissism is a dangerous pathology because narcissists modify reality and devalue you before others by building their own image. If someone tells you “thank you very much, you made a good diagnosis, you are very good”, you will appreciate it and that’s it. Saying “I’m the best” is wrong.

– There were times when Greece disappointed you, but you came back. You left and came back many times. Because;

– I leave with disappointment, I return with enthusiasm. I am rebuilding my confidence in the plane. Greece moves me in many ways.

– Why are there advances in the sciences and arts in America that are never achieved in Greece?

– Because in Greece there are many interactions between the various actors, which do not allow something to develop correctly and objectively as in America.

– In addition to neurology, you are an art collector.

– Art collector and wine collector. And I clarify that I do not charge as a form of investment. I collect for happiness. For example, wines offer a form of happiness when enjoyed with your own people and friends by expanding communication.

– Invest in happiness.

– Yes, mental health needs happiness.

“I do not agree with euthanasia. Taking life is something very heavy,” says Marinos Dalakas. Photo NIKOS KOKKALIAS

There is no center of good and evil in the brain.

– I have found out that you are a collector of paintings.

– I started as a fanatical collector of Ten Florias (1897-1969), who lived in Corfu and Paris. I have many of his works. But my relationship with art has evolved. My collection began with the impressionists of the Washington School and the great Greek abstract impressionists of the Paris School 1940-1970, but continued with the abstract expressionists. The magic of painting is that you look at a painting and you miss something. You look again and that something is revealed. The same thing happens when you listen to a Bach violin concerto. Each time it reveals itself differently.

– If everything is a matter of interpretation and interpretations are constantly changing, then is reality as a whole a construction of our brain or is it objective and independent of the observer?

– Reality is reality, the brain recognizes reality. Of course, we are influenced by our environment and we can have a different perception of reality. Interpretations change, attitudes change.

– Does the brain have a built-in sense of justice?

– No. Law comes from knowledge. The brain does not know what is right by itself. There is no center of good and evil in the brain.

– One of the heaviest experiences that cognitively affect the brain is death. Why does death affect us? Is it because what we call “I” contains not only “I” but also “the other”?

– We are certainly not alone. And when you live alone it’s like you’re dead. When a person of yours or a pet leaves, then a part of you is lost. Often the loss of a pet is as serious as the loss of a human being. And in fact, the animal has never hurt you. He only offers you love, which we cannot say about people, since there are no people, including your friends, who only offer love. That is why the loss of an animal causes great mourning.

– Are you concerned about the fact that modern medicine often offers a long life extension without a cure? Would you support the institutionalization of euthanasia in Greece?

– What you say about medicine is true, that it keeps people alive without curing them. But I don’t agree with euthanasia. Taking life is something very heavy.

autoimmune and thoughts

– In your speech at the Academy about the book by Thanasis Fokas, you left open the issue of the connection between the nervous system and the immune system. Could autoimmune diseases be due to our thoughts “penetrating” the nervous system and affecting the immune system?

– Not in the sense that they are conscious thoughts. The brain is a regulator of many autoimmune diseases, even playing a role in response to immunotherapy. Widespread thoughts that you have symptoms compatible with a neurological disease lead, when frequent, to so-called “functional neurological diseases”, which very often afflict patients “without being sick”. Here the ability to persuade and the experience of a good clinician are essential before they become obsessive pathological perceptions.

The meeting

We met at the traditional Fatsio restaurant in Pagrati (Efroniou 5). It is not only the quality of the Greek and civil cuisine, but also the calm, quiet and civilized atmosphere of Fatsio, which allows for pleasant conversations. We preferred the green salad and then Mr. Dalakas ordered penne with mushrooms and I ordered grilled chicken breast with baked potatoes. Everything was excellent. We resist wine and prefer water and coca-cola zero, for evening commitments after lunch.
The bill was just over 30 euros.

Marinos Dalakas: Spiritual health needs happiness-2

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