Charles Bonnet (1720-1793): On the neural basis of memory

Department of Psychology, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, Michigan

Charles Bonnet (1720-1793) of Geneva is known primarily for his contributions to biology, e.g. parthenogenesis in aphids and photosynthesis in plants. His contributions to cognitive neuroscience are rarely discussed. In his Essai de Psychologie (1754) and in his Essai Analytique sur les Facultes de l'Ame (1760) he proposed a unique (for the 18th century) view of the neural representation of memory processes as occurring in a group of fibers, somewhat prescient of a Hebbian model. Bonnet believed that the memory trace caused a change in neural fibers, a physical restructuring of its constituents ("corpuscules"). A bundle of fibers were able to interact, leading to recall and recognition; the more fibers were stimulated the stronger the memory trace. He claimed that different fibers carried different types of information, foreshadowing the doctrine of specific nerve energies of Johannes Mueller. Memory decline, forgetting, was the gradual deterioration of the fiber structures that were no longer being stimulated. Bonnet's change-in-structure view is easily distinguished from that of his contemporary David Hartley whose model of neural representation was based on (Newtonian) vibrations. Bonnet's influence seems to have been primarily on German physiological psychology ("Fibernpsychologie") in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Session II -- Poster Session
Sunday, 2 June 2002, 10:00 - 11:00 am

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

Los Angeles, California, USA