Fibers and vibrations: Transition models of brain function in the 18th century

Yves TURGEON1 and Harry WHITAKER2
1Lakehead University; 2Northern Michigan University


Eighteenth century models of brain function marked a conceptual change, notably the emergence of physiological psychology and the development of neuroscientific concepts. Theoretical systems such as David Hartley's notions of vibrations in the brain and Charles Bonnet's speculations on the structure and function of nerve fibers may be regarded as recurring attempts to reconcile rational philosophy with contemporary advances in the physical and biological sciences. Charles Bonnet’s (1720-1793) major philosophical works, Essai de Psychologie (1755) and Essai analytique sur les facultés de l'âme (1760), represented one more step in the development of pre-scientific psychology, serving as one focal point for the transition from the metaphysical philosophy represented in cell doctrine to the scientific neuropsychology that developed in the latter half of the 19th century. Bonnet's brain model, based upon a notion of fibers and movements, compares favorably to the independently developed vibration model of David Hartley (1705-1757) and to ideas of Etienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715-1780).


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