Question of priority

Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) is known for having described the organization of the motor cortex in 1745, 125 years before Gustav Fritsch (1838-1927) and Eduard Hitzig (1838-1907). He was a notable man of science who afterwards became the visionary, possibly psychotic, instigator of a ‘New Church.’ His renowned, younger contemporary, and countryman Johan Henrik Kellgren compared Emanuel Swedenborg’s and Sir Isaac Newton’s (1643-1726) analogous case histories in a poem written 1787, and found ES to be a fool in contrast to Sir Isaac. However, Emanuel Swedenborg’s ranking climbed for over 100 years. Following exhumations and translations of his writings on mineralogy, mathematics, physics, and neurobiology he was even sometimes deemed a genius.

Not all commentators were of one mind. O. Martin Ramström (1861-1930) placed Swedenborg in the genius school, whereas Emil A. G. Kleen (1847-1923), also a medical man, did not. The latter cited critical opinions regarding Swedenborg with reference to three well reputed academics, the geographer Robert Sieger (1864-1926), the mathematician Gustaf Eneström (1852-1923), and the Nobel Laureate, physicist Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927). Nevertheless, Ramström and Kleen agreed on two points. They found Emanuel Swedenborg to have been oustandingly erudite. However, they also both arrived at the conclusion that his perhaps most admired statement, regarding the motor cortex’ organization, was a hypothetical theory conjectured from other investigators’ concrete observations. Certainly no mean feat, but the first real demonstration of the motor cortex’ organization probably was executed by Saucerotte (1741-1814). It was published in 1768.

Session III
Tuesday, 5 July 2005, 2.00 - 2.30 pm

Tenth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
Tenth Meeting of the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN)

St. Andrews, Scotland, 2005