Bard College, NY
Many physicians, anatomists and natural philosophers engaged in attempts to map the seat of the soul during the so-called Scientiªc Revolution of the European seventeenth century. The history of these efforts needs to be told in light of the puzzlement bred by today’s strides in the neurological sciences. Theaccounts discussed here, most centrally by Nicolaus Steno, Claude Perrault and Thomas Willis, betray the acknowledgement that a gap remained between observable form, on the one hand, and motor and sensory functions, on the other. Observation yielded information about form, but did not guarantee a constant correlation with presumed function, while the mechanisms of sense and movement did not ªt in withaccounts of action and cognition whose purpose was to place the connection between active body and willful, conscious soul onto a descriptive rather than metaphysical plane. Teleology was now no longer a helpful tool in the disciplines of anatomy and physiology; the consequences of this are still with us.
The birth of methods that allow for the “live” mapping of the functioningbrain is probably one of the most remarkable landmarks in the rapidly developing technological landscape of our era. The concomitant possibility of mapping the mind by this means has not escaped the attention of neuroscientists, philosophers and the interested general public. One contemporary version of the old mind-body problem, in fact, addresses the issue of whether, by seeing the traces left bycerebral activity, one is understanding more about the products of this activity than ever was the case before, or inversely, whether the questions posed to us by this technology are not identical to those that were posed before the technology was born. Attempts to map the seat of the soul are, after all, not new. During a
Perspectives on Science 2006, vol. 14, no. 2 ©2006 by The MassachusettsInstitute of Technology 153
Form and Function in the Early Enlightenment
previous era of rapid technological change, in the so-called Scientiªc Revolution of the seventeenth century, many physicians, anatomists and natural philosophers in England as well as France, Italy, Germany and Holland, engaged in the systematic study of the corporeal, or sensitive soul, that is, of the perceiving,sensing, emoting, cognizing mind. They provided their students and colleagues in academies and universities detailed descriptions of dissections they had either conducted, watched or read about. The history of these efforts needs to be told in light of the puzzlement bred by today’s huge strides in the neurological sciences, for it can shed light on this puzzlement. Indeed, as will be recountedhere, the interpretive lines along which early modern descriptions of brain functions were put down—whether outright materialist and thus novel at the time, or more safely mitigated in their interpretation of the modern, postAristotelian world that was emerging then—did not so much display an empirical theory of what the higher, conscious mind was, as trace the framework within which observation ofits visible functions could be taken to make theoretical sense. This article, then, explains how the maps of the soul produced by early modern naturalists, natural philosophers, physicians and anatomists turned out to suit their makers and the theories about the soul which they deemed most sensible, in an age in which God still mattered and in which theological constraints on materialism wereinternal to the very programs of the new scientiªc academies that, from the beginning of the early seventeenth century on, burgeoned all over Europe, from Italy to France and England. Intended as mirrors of what remained of the scholastic “corporeal” soul or set of functions taken to encapsulate both psyche and soma, the anatomical and analytical manuals bequeathed to us by the period’s physicians...