John Bulwer (1606-1656) and the significance of gesture in 17th-century theories of language and cognition

Solidarity Foundation, New York, New York

John Bulwer (1606-1656) published five books on the semiotics of the human body, giving most attention to gesture. His ideas on gesture have been studied from the standpoint of rhetorical theory, but little attention has been paid to them in relation to language and cognition. In this regard, Bulwer was a conscious disciple of Francis Bacon, who characterized gesture as a "transient hieroglyphic" in the same passage that inspired many attempts to develop a "real character" -- a sort of rationalized, non-figurative hieroglyphic intended to bypass ordinary language by symbolizing all things directly. Bulwer, however, completely ignores the real character idea and concentrates solely on gesture. This was partly because he held Rosicrucian views on the inherent ontological harmony between man and the universe, but largely because, as a physician, he saw an underlying neurophysiological basis for the reality of gesture as the universal "language" of humanity. In this respect his ideas foreshadow recent scientific work on gesture, language and cognition.

Session III -- Neuropsychology, Language and Cognition
Sunday, 2 June 2002, 2:30 pm

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

Los Angeles, California, USA