When Wilfred met Wilfred

Nuno Torres recounts that Wilfred Trotter and Wilfred Bion “met around 1927 when Bion did his medical internship at University College Hospital having won the Gold Medal in Surgery, and being one of Trotter’s attendant dressers (Bion, 1985).” Bion qualified in medicine by means of the Conjoint Diploma (MRCS England, LRCP London) in 1930.

Ronald Britton writes in The W R Bion Tradition (2015):

“…Bion was influenced by his tutor, the philosopher H J Paton…However, I think the most influential figure in his intellectual development was someone he met when….he did his medical training at University College Hospital. Wilfred Trotter by this time, around 1930, was celebrated as a surgeon and pioneer in neurosurgery. As a young man in 1908 and 1909 he had written two of the earliest papers on group psychology…The clear influence of these on Bion’s ideas on groups is evident…there must be an additional component to establish the identity of things that seem constantly conjoined; this was previously called God by Descartes or Berkeley, but Bion says, “(it) is none other than a social component, Vox populi, vox dei, of the instinctual equipment” (Bion, 1992)…

…Even the celebrated phrase “learning from experience”, which becomes one of his book titles, is borrowed from Trotter…

…It is as if (Bion) prioritised Trotter’s teachings as a primer of his own personal apprenticeship…not one gleaned from publications shared with other readers…

…Bion’s description of basic assumptions in groups was clearly influenced by Trotter who also insisted that altruism is instinctual in man as a herd animal and is not as other psychologists, such as Lester Ward (1903), had suggested derived from enlightened self interest. Trotter’s view chimes perfectly with the centrality of depressive anxiety, guilt, and reparation in Klein’s theorising whereas in Freud it is – as it was for the American psychologists of the time – secondary to self regard. Freud was incredulous at the Christian doctrine of “love thy neighbor as thyself”, whereas Trotter, Klein, and Bion saw it as natural, like Auden, who used the term Agape for this as opposed to Eros.”.

Kay M Souter has highlighted in her writing Bion’s ability to represent the absolute necessity of the presence of another mind for psychic survival, and his sensitivity to the significance of everyday personal contact.

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