The original ideas of Comenius (1592-1670) on children's brain and development

Department of Cognitive Science, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

The thinking of the Moravian priest Comenius (1592-1670) with respect to children's brain development and learning capacities is best described as original.

First his thinking about this topic--enriched by his experience as a teacher and a headmaster--occupied a central place in his religious and philosophical ideas (Drews, 1994, Cauly, 1995). Secondly he expressed his views on a number of aspects of development, including language development (Germain, 1993). One of the outcomes of his views on language learning is his well known Orbis Sensualium Pictus Quadrilinguis (1658), the originality of which lies in the use of pictures to illustrate sentences in four different languages (Germain, 1993, Kushner, 1994, Drews, 1994).

The aim of this paper is to explore a less well known work of Comenius, The school of infancy (1633), as well as his classic work, The great didactic (1657). It will be argued that his views on children's early development and on the plasticity of the brain were original in at least two ways. At a time when, according to Descartes, infants were thought to be unable to form memories, Comenius thought that one's early years shape one's development and that infants were sensitive to and processed sensory stimulations. Secondly, according to the Moravian priest, the plastic quality of the young brain enabled the infant to experience two types of processes: learning and unlearning. It will be demonstrated that in assuming these two processes, Comenius adopted the view that changes in children's brains and learning capacities were qualitative rather than quantitative, an issue which is still debated today among developmentalists.

Session I -- The Developing Brain and Its Harmony
Sunday, 12 August 2004, 9:00 am

Ninth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Montreal, Quebec, Canada