The long 18th century: When mind escaped the cells

C.U.M. SMITH
Aston University


From the times of Nemesius to those of Descartes and Willis, the mind was located in the brain, especially its ventricles or cells, and communicated with the rest of the body via conduits formed by hollow nerves. Both Descartes and Willis liberated the rational soul from this confinement. They also ensured that the animal spirits of the medievals lost their spiritual dimension and, becoming fully corporeal, were open to investigation by the techniques of natural science. These corporeal spirits also escaped the brain, this time to pervade the entire neuromuscular system. This paper reviews these developments in the work of Descartes, Willis, Swammerdam, Haller, Cullen, Whytt and Erasmus Darwin. Allusion is made to the panpsychist ideas of Leibniz and the work of Abraham Trembley and La Mettrie as well as the reception of eighteenth century neuropsychology in the wider English culture of Samuel Johnson, Richardson, Smollett and Laurence Sterne.


18th Century Neuroscience Symposium -- Function in the "Long" 18th Century: The Transition from Medieval Cell Doctrine to Cortical Localization Doctrine
Saturday, 26 June 2004, 9:00 am - 6:30 pm

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

Montreal, Quebec, Canada