Research in medical humanities is taking a radical new turn. Not content to be the ‘handmaiden’ of clinical practice, we are now getting engaged in the complexities of clinical science, aiming to work alongside colleagues who are seeking to answer some of the most difficult questions in clinical practice. For example, the symptom of breathlessness presents a dilemma in that symptom experience does not correlate well with measured lung function. In this lecture I will describe how an interdisciplinary medical humanities project combines research and insights from across humanities, social science and clinical science to understand this problem. Avoiding destructive ‘two culture’ clashes we have developed collaborations that we hope will improve the lives of patients.