Where does the soul live in the body?

Fascinating episode of “In Our Time” on Radio 4 this morning (8th May 2008).

Plato (c.428 BC – c.348 BC) thought that the human soul had three parts: one in the brain, one in the heart, and one in the guts. The parallels to Chinese thought and their understanding of the three fields of elixir here are outstanding.

Plato’s pupil Aristotle decided that, because there was no blood in the brain, it had no real function other than to cool the body. The heart was the seat of the passions, the seat of consciousness – again, strongly paralleling oriental thought.

The anatomist Galen (129-c.216) thought that the soul had three parts and lived in the liver, the heart and the brain. This essentially pagan view conflicted with Christianity

Until the 17th Century, the brain was seen as subordinate to the heart. The discovery of the circulation of the blood by Harvey led to the dethroning of the heart: suddenly it was seen as just a pumping mechanism, a muscle. Today the brain and the intellect reign supreme; the heart and the feelings are relegated to second place. China, meanwhile, retains the concept of xin, the heart-mind.

Leonardo was the first to look at the spaces in the brain, the ventricles, and here he thought was the repository of the sensus communis – memory, imagination, common sense and so on.

This is where the programme ended, but we could go on to talk about Vesalius who, in 1543, gave accurate drawings of the ventricles and described how they generated the psychic pnuema [1]. At around the same time, Fernel was repeating notions of animal spirits being pumped from the ventricles into the spine and thence to the muscles by the contraction of the brain [2]. All of this is the exact inverse of the establishment view of today, in which the tissues of the brain are seen as the driving force in consciousness, which has been reduced to an epiphenomenon. Then came Descartes, but we’ll save him for another time.

[1] Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience by M. R. Bennett, Peter Michael Stephan Hacke, p23

[2] ibid p.25


~ by scalambra on May 8, 2008.

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