The Brain Takes Shape: An Early History

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Using historical and anthropological perspectives to examine mind-body relationships in western thought, this book interweaves topics that are usually disconnected to tell a big, important story in the histories of medicine, science, philosophy, religion, and political rhetoric. Beginning with early debates during the Scientific Revolution about representation and reality, Martensen demonstrates how investigators such as Vesalius and Harvey sought to transform long-standing notions of the body as dominated by spirit-like humors into portrayals that emphasized its solid tissues. Subsequently, Descartes and Willis and their followers amended this 'new' philosophy to argue for the primacy of the cerebral hemispheres and cranial nerves as they downplayed the role of the spirit, passion, and the heart in human thought and behavior. None of this occurred in a social vacuum, and the book places these medical and philosophical innovations in the context of the religious and political crises of the Reformation and English Civil War and its aftermath. Patrons and their interests are part of the story, as are patients and new formulations of gender. John Locke's psychology and the emergence in England of a constitutional monarchy figure prominently, as do opponents of the new doctrines of brain and nerves and the emergent social order. The book's concluding chapter discusses how debates over investigative methods and models of body order that first raged over 300 years ago continue to influence biomedicine and the broader culture today. No other book on western mind-body relationships has attempted this.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a well-researched book about an important topic that is underrepresented in the history of science: the transformation, mainly during the 17th century, of the widespread belief that the heart is the primary locus of personhood to the belief that, in fact, the brain serves this function." —The New England Journal of Medicine

"While fascinating as a textbook of medical intellectual history, the greatest thrill comes when the reader connects the historical material to his or her 21st century experience...Any psychiatrist, physician, healer or therapist who seeks to increase his or her perspective beyond the constraints of current schools of thought will cherish this book." —Ole J. Thienhaus, M.D., University of Nevada Journal of Clinical Psychiatry

"Matensen has provided a rich and fascinating account of the origins of our modern understanding of the relations of mind and brain."—Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"...this is an excellent book that integrates Martensen's earlier writings on anatomy, theology, and women's bodies with newer materials in challenging and satisfying ways. It deserves a wide readership."—Journal of the History of Medicine

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Celso Agner, MD, MS, MSc (Michigan Neurology Partners)
Description: The brain has always fascinated the human race. In many instances, it challenges existence, theology, gives authority, diversity, and exoticism to life. How to explain art, the nature of geniality, and musicality? Is the brain by itself capable of explaining its own nature? What generates thoughts? Because many of these questions remain unanswered, the brain continues to fascinate.
Purpose: The purpose of this book is to explore the nature of the theological and physiological controversies that have surrounded the concept of the brain for many centuries. These ideas are worthy of exploration, although other books have covered different aspects of the brain as an organ. The authors meet their objectives.
Audience: Neurologists and neuroscientists are the main target audiences for this book. The author is a credible authority.
Features: The book starts with a historical overview of the understanding of the brain as an organ of higher function, with the social and organic implications it represents. The different views of the brain as a representation of skull anatomy or the association with gods, evil spirits, or mythological figures was the concern of scientists before the microscopic/histologic era of Ramon y Cajal, the author of the concept of brain architecture, the organization of cells into layers that represent a function, a concept supported by Kandel and others.
Assessment: This book is, by itself, a good reference for neurologists, neurosurgeons, and other professionals interested in the history of the brain and its development. It is a worthy purchase for any general or neurosciences library.

3 Stars from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195151725
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

1. Bodies, Words, and Images
2. Matter, Spirit, and the Heart
3. The Human Mind and "Gland H": Cartesian Models of Mind, Brain, and Nerves
4. When the Brain Came Out of the Skull
5. Toward a New Physiology of Human Conduct
6. Body of Witnesses
7. The Transformation of Eve
8. Mind Without Brain: John Locke, Thomas Syndenham, and the Constitutional Body of the British Enlightenment
9. On the Persistence of the Cerebral Model and Its Alternatives: A Cultural Anthropology Perspective

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