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Brain History?

Daniel L. Roe dlroe at artsci.wustl.edu
Wed Feb 7 21:23:59 EST 1996

The ancient egyptians usually discarded the brain, after extracting it 
from the skull (often, it appears, with the help of chemicals to dissolve 
it).  Imhotep, the most renown Egyptian physician, considered the heart 
as the 'seat of the soul', and brain damage was thought to cause 
behavioral impairment by impairing the metu (metu are all of the body's 
blood vessels, nerves, and the lymph system taken together...they were 
not differentiated by the Egyptians).  The heart was, by Imhotep's way of 
thinking, the meeting place for all of the body's vessels.

Aristotle, who was influenced by Egyptian thinking on this matter, 
considered the heart to be the 'Acropolis of the body'.  The heart was 
thought to be the organ of mind because 1) it appeared 1st in 
embryological development (Artistotle observed chick embryos) and 2) he 
believed that it was warmer than the brain.  To the Greeks, primacy was 
more important than recency, and warmth was considered an attribute of 

Of course, Plato considered the brain to be the 'organ of mind' or the 
seat of the rational soul, but the 1st Greek to discuss the brain as 
the organ of thought was Alcmaeon (5th century B.C.). 

Galen, who lived from about 130-200 A.D., did indeed recognize the brain 
as the center of thought.  He was very careful (for Galen, who was 
extremely outspoken, and that's putting it mildly) in his criticism of 
Aristotle's view, since he probably respected Aristotle more than anyone 

The locus of feeling was up for grabs for long after Galen.  Even today, 
we say things like 'I learned it by heart', 'She/He broke my heart', 
etc.  Even the root for record, corda, comes from the Greek for heart.

Sydney M Lamb (smlamb at OWLNET.RICE.EDU) wrote:

: On 4 Feb 1996, yawn wrote:

: > When was the function of the brain first recognised?  During the process 
: > of mummification the ancient Egyptians embalmed many organs but not the 
: > brain, obviously not considering it not important.  
: > 

: The great physician Galen, one of the first to use dissection of animals 
: as a source of anatomic information (it was illegal to dissect human 
: corpses), proposed that the brain is the center of both thinking and 
: feeling --- in the 7th century.   This was of course a great advance over 
: Aristotle's speculation that the function of the brain was to cool the 
: blood.

: Full speed ahead! 


Daniel L. Roe
Department of Psychology
Washington University, St. Louis

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