visit the 17th century mind

                                 The 17th century view of the Mind

                             Here follows some notes on the shift from
      [The Brain Project]    Galen's view of the mind and its body to
                             the development of the mechanistic view.

                               Part of The Brain Project by Stephen

                              Galen's Humours

    Galen's view of human anatomy became the framework for all further
    consideration of the body and its brain for the next 1500 years.
    Investigative inquiry into the anatomy didn't begin until Nicholas
    Copernicus challenged the prevailing Church backed view of the
    world as the centre of the universe by showing that the earth and
    the planets moved around the sun; and William Harvey demonstrated
    that the blood was pumped in circulation around the body. But the
    concept of "pneuma" still held sway in any discussion of the brain.
    Rene Descartes wrote, in the mid 17th century, in reference to the

         "The cavities of the brain are central
         reservoirs...animal spirits enter these cavities. They
         pass into the pores of its substance and from these pores
         into the nerves. The nerves may be compared to the tubes
         of a waterworks; breathing or other actions depend on the
         flow of animal spirits into the nerves. The rational soul
         (the pineal) takes place of the engineer, living in that
         part of the reservoir that connects all of the various
         tubes. These spirits are like the wind. When they flow
         into a muscle they cause it to become stiff and harden,
         just as air in a balloon makes it hard." [Bergland, p61]

                 [Image]              Robert Burton in The Anatomy of
                                      Melancholy (first published in
      Title page from Robert          London in 1652) represents the
      Burton's The Anatomy of         "humours" view based on Galen.
      Melancholy, 1651. [from the     His book is possibly the first
      1849 edition in Stephen         major treatise on a psychological
      Jones' library]                 problem, namely depression, ever

                                      Burton summarises the state of
                                      anatomy with discussion of the
                                      humours. The four humors were:

                                           blood [sanguine] a hot,
                                           sweet, temperate humour
                                           whose office is to
                                           nourish the whole
                                           body,to give it
                                           strength and colour.
                                           pituita [phlegm] a cold
                                           and moist humour, his
                                           office is to nourish
                                           and moisten the members
                                           of the body.
                                           choler [yellow bile]
                                           hot, dry, bitter, helps
                                           the natural heat and
                                           senses, and serves to
                                           the expelling of
                                           melancholy [black bile]
                                           cold, dry, thick,
                                           black, and sour.

                                      He also adopted the Aristotelian
                                      views on the nature of "life"
                                      referring to spirits:

                                           "Of these spirits there
                                           be three kinds,
                                           according to the three
                                           principle parts, brain,
                                           heart, liver; natural,
                                           vital, animal. The
                                           natural are begotten in
                                           the liver and thence
                                           dispersed through the
                                           veins, to perform those
                                           natural actions. The
                                           vital spirits are made
                                           in the heart of the
                                           natural, which by the
                                           arteries are
                                           transported to all the
                                           other parts: if the
                                           spirits cease, then
                                           life ceaseth, as in a
                                           syncope or swooning.
                                           The animal spirits
                                           formed of the vital,
                                           brought up to the
                                           brain, and diffused by
                                           the nerves, to the
                                           subordinate members,
                                           give sense and motion
                                           to them all." [Burton,
    and the soul (or the anima) which was divided

         "into three principle faculties - vegetal, sensitive, and
         rational, which make three distinctive kinds of living
         creatures - vegetal plants, sensible beasts, and rational
         men. How these three principle faculties are
         distinguished and beyond human
         capacity,... The inferior may be alone, but the superior
         cannot subsist without the other; so sensible includes
         vegetal, rational both; which are contained in it (saith
         Aristotle) as a tringle in a quadrangle." [Burton, p98]

    He then goes on to describe the brain as a device for distilling
    the animal spirits:

         "...the a soft, marrowish, and white
         substance, engendered of the purest part of seeds and
         spirits, included by many skins, and seated within the
         skull or brain pan; and it is the most noble organ under
         heaven, the dwelling-house and seat of the soul, the
         habitation of wisdom, memory, judgement, reason and in
         which man is most like unto God; and therefore nature
         hath covered it with a skull of hard bone, and two skins
         or membranes, whereof the one is called dura mater, or
         meninx, the other pia mater. The dura mater is next to
         the skull, above the other, which includes and protects
         the brain. When this is taken away, the pia mater is to
         be seen, a thin membrane, the next and immediate cover of
         the brain, and not covering only, but entering into it.
         The brain itself is divided into two parts, the fore and
         hinder part; the fore part is much bigger than the other,
         which is called the little brain in respect of it. This
         fore part hath many concavities distinguished by certain
         ventricles, which are the receptacles of the spirits,
         brought hither by the arteries of the heart, and are
         there refined to a more heavenly nature, to perform the
         actions of the soul. Of these ventricles there are three
         - right, left, and middle. The right and left answer to
         their site and beget animal spirits; if they be in any
         way hurt, sense and motion ceaseth. These ventricles,
         moreover, are held to be the seat of the common sense.
         The middle ventricle is a common concourse and cavity of
         them both, and hath two passages - the one to receive
         pituita, and the other extends itself to the fourth
         creek; in this they place imagination and cogitation, and
         so the three ventricles of the fore part of the brain are
         used. The fourth creek behind the head is common to the
         cerebral or little brain, and marrow of the back bone,
         the last and most solid of all the rest, which receives
         the animal spirits from the other ventricles, and conveys
         them to the marrow in the back, and is the place where
         they say the memory is seated." [Burton, p97]
                                        And so in referring to the cause
                                        of disease and paricularly
                                        mental dis-ease he says:

                                             " the body works
                                             upon the mind by his
                                             bad humours, troubling
                                             the spirits, sending
                                             gross fumes into the
                                             brain, and so per
                  [Image]                    consequens the
          ....................forgotten      faculties of it, with
          quite                              fear, sorrow, &c.,
          All former scenes of               which are ordinary
          dear delight, Connubial            symptoms of this
          love .... parental joy             disease [melancholy]:
          ......                             so on the other side,
          No sympathies like these           the mind most
          his soul employ;                   effectualy works upon
          But all is dark within             the body, producing by
          .........                          his passions and
          [Penrose. from the                 perturbations
          frontispiece to Burton's           miraculous
          The Anatomy of                     alterations, as
          Melencholy, 1849                   melancholy, despair,
          edition]                           cruel diseases, and
                                             sometimes death
                                             itself." [Burton,

                                        To revue Burton: The rational
                                        soul was seated in the brain,
                                        and received sensations and
                                        controlled movement, via the
                                        action of the fluid 'animal
                   The emergence of the mechanistic view.

    It took a very long time and much valiant work (vide: Nicholas
    Copernicus and Giordano Bruno) to begin the liberation of science
    from the overarching control of the mystico/religious framework and
    the political needs of the Roman Church. This change started to
    really happen at the end of the 16th century with the appearance of
    a new attitude to the observation of what actually happens,
    followed up by a desire to experiment on and test what is being
    observed. But at this early stage the mystical framework still
    greatly influenced theory.

    In A Short History of Science, Charles Singer notes Kepler's
    mystical adherence to the Pythagorean/Platonic solids and to the
    idea "that the arrangement of the world and its parts must
    correspond with some abstract conception of the beautiful and the
    harmonious" [Singer, 1941, p200].

    Referring to Kepler's first approximation of his theory of the
    orbits of the planets, Singer says:

         "That Kepler sought so persistently for a simple
         mathematical scheme of the material world, and that,
         having found one, he regarded it as fitting his scheme of
         the moral world, suggests certain reflections on the
         workings of the mind itself. Whatever reality may be, we
         seem to be so made that we aspire towards an
         interpretation of the universe that shall hold together
         in a complete and reasonable scheme. The fact that we
         thus aspire does not in the least prove that such a
         scheme corresponds to reality. Nevertheless, all great
         religions attempt to provide such an interpretation. All
         become skillfully 'rationalised'.[Singer, 1941, p203]

    It looks awfully like Singer adopts a vitalistic view of science
    here: that the motivation of science is to find a unified view of
    the "world" and that this in some way is a "natural" function of
    the mind. Yet this has considerable political consequence...

         "It is because science disturbs part of this already
         carefully rationalised field that religion resents its
         intrusion. The mind recoils from a dualistic universe,
         and rationalised religion usually seeks to minimise even
         such remnants of dualism as the conception of a spirit of
         evil. It is easy for us now to regard the opponents of
         Galileo and Kepler as purblind fools. Base motive
         certainly prompted some of the opposition; but in essence
         the opposition expresses the reluctance of the human mind
         to adopt any teaching which disturbs it unitary
         conceptions. A reasoned view of the universe, physical
         and moral, had grown up during the Middle Ages. It would
         have been indeed a marvel if this had been relinquished
         without a struggle, for faith is not necessarily
         accompanied by either wisdom or learning or foresight."
         [Singer, 1941, p203]
                                      The 17th century was a most
                                      remarkable period in its
                                      extraordinary fecundity of quite
                                      revolutionary ideas. That the
                                      earth travelled around the sun
                                      was only now being established.
                                      Copernicus had really only found
                                      that the Ptolemaic system of the
                                      Medieval period had too many
                                      anomalies (the epicycles) to
                                      allow it to stand against
                                      observation any longer. It took
                                      Kepler and Tycho Brahe to get the
                                      really useful data that allowed
                                      Galileo to finally publish (much
                                      to his trouble) his great
                                      synthesis Dialogues on the Two
                                      Great Systems of the World

                                      Galileo conceived the world as
                                      reducible to measurement and
                                      mechanical principle. He was
                                      first to exploit the telescope
                                      and also instituted the use of
                 [Image]              telescopes and microscopes of
      Title page of the Dialogues     high craftmanship as tools of
      on The Two Great Systems of     investigation. That the heavens
      the World by Galileo Galilei    were vast and complex with a
      (3rd edition, 1641) [from       multiplicity of worlds was now
      Stephen Jones' library]         mirrored in the startling
                                      multiplicity of matter and life
                                      in the microscopic world.

                                      Francis Bacon in The Proficiencie
                                      and Advancement of Learning and
                                      Rene Descartes in his Discours on
                                      Methode laid down the principles
                                      of experimental science which we
                                      still follow. Firstly one should
                                      gather all the facts that are
                                      relevant to the matter being
                                      investigated. This selection of
                                      relevance is based on the work of
                                      one's predecessors with which one
                                      is familiar through study. Having
                                      gathered all the facts one forms
                                      them into an Hypothesis which
                                      links all the facts together.
                                      Then one tests the hypothesis by
                                      experiment, modifying the
                                      hypothesis as required by the
                                      results of its testing. It is
                                      this which finally allows the
                                      development of a Theory.
    With Galileo's development of the science of mechanics came the
    attempts by the biologists to explain the animal body as a machine.
    It becomes apparent to the experimental philosophers of the 17thC.
    that one might hunt out principles of a mechanical nature which
    applied alike to the motions of the heavens as they did to the
    earth and to living things. The world view of science becomes
    increasingly mechanistic. For example, in 1615, William Harvey
    discovered the process of the circulation of the blood and thus
    that the heart is a pump. The mechanical model of the heart as a
    pump stands as an early version of the process of using a working
    mechanical model to form a clearer picture of some part of the
    animal body. The classical microscopists, Malpighi and Leeuwenhoek,
    "discovered the corpuscles of the blood, the secretory functons of
    'glands', and the fibrillary character of muscles, thus helping to
    complete details of the animal machine." (Singer, 1941, p243).

                            The Rise of Anatomy

    Uptil Descartes the rational soul was intimately housed in the
    brain. The humours which supported the activities of the various
    souls running the person could be seen and their pathways mapped
    (to a limited extent, given the difficulties in carrying out
    anatomical investigation, in obtaining bodies, imposed by the Roman
    church). The vegetal soul is in the liver, the animal soul is in
    the heart and the rational soul in the brain.

    The role of Authority in teaching could not allow the questioning
    of handed down wisdom, especially as that wisdom was held by the
    Roman Church. During the darkness of the middle ages, the Church
    was the sole repository in Europe of the books and knowledge
    emmanating from the Greeks and the Romans. The Arab world had kept
    up a continuing spirit of inquiry through the middle ages but this
    material did not become available in Europe until it filtered out
    through the Moorish colonisation of Spain. Any re-appearance of
    information was controlled by the Church, they had control of the
    books and the institutions of learning, which, immediately before
    the Rennaisance where confined to the monastries.

    They also carried the ideological power, to maintain the position
    of authority of the Church, with the Pope as God's representative
    on earth, essentially bestowing upon him the supreme right of
    decision making.

    As with the clerical hierarchy so was there a hierarchy of social
    relations and a hierachy within the person and their body. The
    rational soul was available only to humans. The animal and vegetal
    souls, available to animals as well, were enough to deal with the
    bodily needs, both long term and everyday. The head was given a
    superior value through its position on top of the body and so it
    must be the seat of the rational soul. Further in what anatomical
    work was done, the main arteries carried the 'sanguine' to the
    head, and it was there that the vital spirit, the 'pneuma' was
    distilled out of the blood and distributed through the body by the
    nerves. So as the Pope was the head of the Church, and the man was
    the head of the household, the skull housed the brain which must be
    the head of the body.
                                      Descartes reduced the humoural
                                      description of the body/brain
                                      with its variety of souls to a
                                      mechanical/hydraulic model. He
                                      used the most celebrated
                                      technological achievements of his
                                      time as his analogy. The great
                                      waterworks of fountains and water
                                      driven clocks and automatons, the
                                      showpieces of men of power,
                                      provided Descartes with models
                                      for describing how the brain
                                      operated the muscles and the
                                      general description of nerve
                                      process. But where now is the
                                      soul? Descartes demonstrated
                                      philosophically that we needed
                                      the capacity to keep some sort of
                                      'reason-able' continuity, and the
                                      Church ideology demanded some
                                      sort of spiritual man which would
                                      be able to have continuity after
                 [Image]              bodily death to keep its
        Title page from Descartes'    carrot-and-stick control over the
          Opera Omnia (Collected      lives of its subjects and the
        Works) 1692 [from Stephen     source of its cash-flow. Thus a
             Jones' library]          purely mechanical model of the
                                      human would not do. So Descartes
                                      divided the soul or the mind, the
                                      thinking thing, from the body and
                                      established Dualism as a way of

                                      By a process of radically
                                      doubting everything of which he
                                      could not be absolutely certain,
                                      all sensation, movement, bodies,
                                      physical things were rendered
                                      unreliable. Finally only 'I'
                                      could be said to exist, I the
                                      thinking thing. All else is
                                      perceived only by a process of
                                      understanding, mediated by the
                                      mind. So there is that about
                                      which Descartes is certain, i.e.
                                      the thinking thing, and there is
                                      everything else. He has separated
                                      the mind from all the world of
                                      sensations and physical things.
    It could be argued that all Descartes really did was to separate
    the phenomenal from the physical. This had two consequences: for
    the physical, biological scientist it allowed ever more detailed
    and effective analysis of problem of elucidating what it is that
    allow living systems to work, but for the philospher it so utterly
    misdirected the agenda for understanding the phenomenal, the mind,
    that we still have not completely escaped its effect. Dualism still
    rides with us and the religious view still has enormous sway over
    the physical/biological sciences.

         Descartes ruptured "the traditional stair of life ranging
         upward step by step to man. Science since Descartes has
         repaired the stair and finds it more significant than
         before. It marks the way that man has climbed. And it is
         a stair of mind as well as body, and it is without break,
         man's mind nothing more than the topmost rung continuous
         with related degrees below." [Sherrington, 1940, p186]

    In a sense it is the ongoing closure of the gap, opened up by
    Descartes, between body and mind which has become the
    characteristic of the development of neuroscience ever since. The
    increasing localisation of function and the increasing visual and
    conceptual magnification of the means of exploring the brain, show
    us more and more that the fine structure of the processes of the
    brain, the chemistry, interneuronal linking and organisation, can
    account more and more for the operations carried on.
                          On the role of modelling

    When we make a tool we project ourselves onto the world. We create
    something which fits a mental model of the tool to achieve some
    goal, from turning over a large piece of rock with a stick used as
    a lever, to creating a mechanism in metaphor with which we can
    manipulate and represent our idea (eg. our idea of ourselves).

    We seem to want to be able to explain the world in terms simpler
    than the operations of the world, i.e. reductionism. The models we
    use will in general be the latest or the most acceptable depending
    on how conservative we are. We need laws, spiritual or temporal to
    fix our relationship with the world and nature and God, if we
    consider the latter to be necessary. With the rise of a mechanistic
    description of the workings of inanimate nature, new models of how
    animate nature might work can be generated and thus the models of
    the animal as a machine.

         "A machine being a man-made contrivance, to call a living
         organ a machine implies that it is mechanism humanly
         intelligible. The whole man being organs the implication
         is that the whole man is mechanism humanly intelligible."
         [Sherrington, 1940, p.186].

    Perhaps here lies the key to the mechanistic modelling, it is the
    urge to understand and the opportunity offered by modelling which
    drives the whole process. The spiritual/religious explanation
    denies the option of actually understanding the processes of nature
    while the mechanistic starts with the view that nature can be

    Bergland, R. The Fabric of the Mind. 1985

    Burton, R. The Anatomy of Melancholy. 1811

    Sherrington, Sir C. Man on his Nature. 1940

    Singer, C. A Short History of Science. 1941