Department of History
University of California, Irvine
Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker

Lecture 5.  Babies and Bathwater.



The first generations of Renaissance scholars called themselves 'humanists' rather than 'scientists':  they attacked the scholastic traditions of the mediaeval universities, not with a vision of what science might become in the future, but rather with their eyes fixed on a more remote past -- on the genuine ideas of antiquity.  Many Greek texts had been reaching Western Europe from Constantinople during the fifteenth century, and they stimulated a fashion for studying the classical philosophers in their original tongue.  Comparing the originals with the mediaeval Latin versions, the humanists felt as though they were reading the classics for the first time:  so they conceived a new mission -- to 'purify the springs of Hellas'.  As a result, the first attempts to overthrow mediaeval scholasticism did not aim at erecting some brand-new system of thought:  instead, they hoped to restore the original authority of the classical philosophers themselves.  The effect of this humanist movement was, on the whole, to turn men's attentions away from the study of science towards literature, poetry, drama, aesthetics, philology and history and, after a winter of a thousand years, the literary and imaginative studies we know as 'the humanities' flowered again in Renaissance Italy.  If one looks back through history for the origin of that division between Science and the Humanities, which still plagues us today, perhaps this is the point at which it should be located. 

--from The Architecture of Matter, by Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield, pp. 142-143.

Effect of Humanist Movement on Medicine

Re-examination of standard texts:

  • Hippocrates, Galen and Avicenna available in Latin from the 12th c through translations by various individuals from Arabic
  • Galen translated from Greek in 1531

Introduction of new means of practical instruction:

  • apprenticeships and clinical practica are augmented by instructor-directed dissection 

Emergence of new ideas:

  • Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) promotes instructor-conducted classroom dissection, introduces anatomical charts as instructional aids, and publishes de Humani Corporus Fabrica [On the Fabric of the Human Body] (1543)
Anomalies in prevailing paradigm:  Invisible Pores and Tons of Blood
  • The source and purpose of blood, according to Galen:
    • stomach converts food to chyle
    • chyle flows to liver where it is converted to blood
    • blood flows to heart via vena cava
    • blood goes to right chamber of heart, is pushed through tiny pores in the heart's septum into left chamber where it receives "vital spirit"
    • blood flows to periphery of body and is converted into flesh
  • Despite failing to observe any tiny pores in the thick wall separating the right and left ventricles, Vesalius included them in his drawing of the human heart in de Humani Corporus Fabrica [On the Fabric of the Human Body].
Recognition and Resolution of a Crisis?
(17th c)
William Harvey

De Motu Cordis (1628)
[On the Motion of the Heart]

Harvey reasoned if: 

  • the heart beats ~ 70 times/minute
  • and the heart holds ~ 2 oz,

then, the heart will process:
~ 70 X 2 oz = 140 oz, or roughly 9 lbs of blood
in one minute

~ 60 mins X 9 lbs = 540 lbs
in one hour

~ 24 hrs X 540 lbs = 6.4 tons!!
in one day

Harvey found this result to be patently absurd.  To study the problem further, he conducted many experiments on both living (vivisection) and dead (dissection) animals.  Based on his observations, Harvey rejected Galen's notion that blood is continuously being generated, distributed, and converted into flesh in a one-way process from liver to heart to extremities.  He suggested that the body contains a fixed amount of blood at all times and that the heart serves as a pump, keeping that blood moving through the body in a neverending cycle.
Discovery is a process and must take time....  [This process is not complete] until the initially anomalous has become the anticipated.
--Thomas Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Go to:
  • Book I of Mathematical Syntaxis, or Almagest (based on observations made from 127-151 CE) by Claudius Ptolemy (2nd c CE);
  • Astronomia Magna (1537) by a contemporary of Copernicus, and one of the more controversial figures in the history of science:  Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, a.k.a. Paracelsus (1493-1591);
  • the foreword and preface to the first edition of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium [On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres] (1543) by Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543); and
  • the preface to Mysterium Cosmigraphicum [Cosmic Mystery] (1596) by Johannes Kepler (1571-1630).
Weekly Readings
Lecture Notes