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Soul Made Flesh by Carl Zimmer
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Soul Made Flesh (original 2005; edition 2005)

by Carl Zimmer

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398954,159 (4.13)11
In this unprecedented history of a scientific revolution, award-winning author and journalist Carl Zimmer tells the definitive story of the dawn of the age of the brain and modern consciousness. Told here for the first time, the dramatic tale of how the secrets of the brain were discovered in seventeenth-century England unfolds against a turbulent backdrop of civil war, the Great Fire of London, and plague. At the beginning of that chaotic century, no one knew how the brain worked or even what it looked like intact. But by the century's close, even the most common conceptions and dominant philosophies had been completely overturned, supplanted by a radical new vision of man, God, and the universe. Presiding over the rise of this new scientific paradigm was the founder of modern neurology, Thomas Willis, a fascinating, sympathetic, even heroic figure at the center of an extraordinary group of scientists and philosophers known as the Oxford circle. Chronicled here in vivid detail are their groundbreaking revelations and the often gory experiments that first enshrined the brain as the physical seat of intelligence -- and the seat of the human soul. Soul Made Flesh conveys a contagious appreciation for the brain, its structure, and its many marvelous functions, and the implications for human identity, mind, and morality.… (more)
Member:cwzimmer
Title:Soul Made Flesh
Authors:Carl Zimmer
Info:Arrow Books Ltd (2005), Paperback, 320 pages
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Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain—and How It Changed the World by Carl Zimmer (2005)

  1. 00
    Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (PuddinTame)
    PuddinTame: The Soul Made Flesh is a non-fiction account of the history of the study of the brain, in which Thomas Willis figures prominently. He was one of the physicians who was preparing to dissect Anne Greene after her hanging, but instead revived her when it was discovered that she wasn't actually dead.… (more)
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Subtitle: The Discovery of the Brain and How It Changed the World
The first two chapters are a quick but readable history of the whereabouts of the embodied mind as imagined by the ancient Greeks, Aristotle, Aquinas, and other philosophers. Until the 1600's, most doctors thought the ventricles were air filled and the source of spirits animating the muscles, while the rest of the brain matter was "a useless bowl of curds". This opinion was partly due to the the lack of study of human brains, and later, to the autopsy technique that sliced off the skull and brain in sections, without any perservatives. The body of the book is the history of Thomas Willis, and the Oxford Circle, set in the history of King Charles I and the Puritan revolution that followed. William Harvey was a bit older when Willis earned his medical degree, and began to do experimental studies on the brain, but he was revered in the Oxford Circle for his discovery of the circulation of the blood. He also, incidentally, discovered that soaking an organ in alcohol would preserve it for later study. Willis took advantage of this to remove the brain whole, and produce his detailed anatomy, including the circle of blood vessels at the base of the brain. He demonstrated that dye would flow from one carotid to fill the whole brain. His anatomical and experimental prowess, however, did not make him any better at diagnosis and treatment. He was a "pisse-prophet", looking at urine samples for diagnosis, and prescribed bloodletting, and other Galenic remedies, without much success. Nonetheless, he became famous and rich, and served for a time as the court physician to Charles II. This book was rich in detail, and well written, serving as a biography of Willis, an intellectual history of the Oxford circle, and a survey of the late 1600's in Britain. ( )
  neurodrew | Feb 21, 2022 |
gift from Jessy
  rondorn | Apr 13, 2020 |
I hadn't even thought this was a topic worth reading about, but a friend recommended this book and I had a peek. I was drawn in immediately and amazed at the history I didn't know and was never taught! What's interesting is that it takes about 120 pages to finally get to the gist of the actual subject of the book, but those 120 pages are filled with wonderful detail of English history, war, medicine, religion, superstition and science. The story of the protagonist is then told over another 120 or so pages, before giving way to a beautiful educational history-filled coda. What an enlightening book. What an experience!
  MartinBodek | Jun 11, 2015 |
Ostensibly about Thomas Willis, a 17th century physician and anatomist, and his discovery of the the brain as the seat of intelligence and the 'command center' of the rest of the body, the book actually documents what is essentially the transition from 'natural philosophy' to 'science'. It centers on Oxford in the mid 17th century and the extraordinary men who working there, men who were willing to discard centuries of accepted wisdom about the natural world, including medicine, in favor of doing actual experiments to discover how things, including the human body, actually worked. Unlike Willis, many of these men did not limit themselves to medicine, and the list of them reads like a who's who of 17th C science, philosophy, and of all things, architecture! The cast, besides Willis, includes: Descartes, Hobbes, Boyle, Vesalius, Paracelsus, Harvey, Hooke, Locke, Wallis, Ward, Wilkins, Wren, Sydenham, and many others.

The ferment of ideas in this period is extraordinary and Zimmer does an excellent job in summarizing them and tying them together, showing how discoveries in one 'area', like chemistry, affected other in other 'areas', like medicine (though these men certainly had not conceived of our modern 'areas' of science like chemistry and physics), and how these discoveries both were influenced by, and influenced in turn, the way we view the world around us.

Zimmer's centerpiece is Willis' investigations into the brain and nerves, and he argues that his discoveries essentially presaged much of modern neurology, limited mostly by Willis' lack of knowledge of electricity. He further argues that these discoveries had a profound effect on how we viewed sickness and health, and how we understand 'the soul'.

I want to spend a second taking issue with some comments by another reviewer: First, because Willis is not generally as well known as some of the other scientists described here does not mean his importance has been overstated. Zimmer's arguments that his discoveries changed how we look at the body and world are compelling, even if most of the world has forgotten where the discoveries originated. Second, I don't think that people feel relief just because they find out that mental illness is treatable; whether treatable or not, patients are often relieved to find out that their illness has a rational basis, that we can put a label on it, and describe why it is happening. It relieves them to know that they are not just 'crazy'. Third, to paraphrase Mozart in 'Amadeus', the book is precisely as long as it needs to be to get Zimmer's points across. It does not ramble, it is not repetitious, and is just plain interesting from beginning to end.

For all students of science and history, this is a wonderful book and is well worth your time. ( )
1 vote scvlad | Feb 12, 2012 |
An interesting book on early research into the brain focusing primarily on the work of Thomas Willis and his 'circle'. While it took me a couple of chapters to really get involved with this book it turned out to be interesting not just for the work on the brain but for the information about the practice of medicine in the 1600's and how our ideas about the human soul have changed over time.
Recommended.
  hailelib | Feb 11, 2011 |
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Epigraph
To explicate the uses of the Brain seems as difficult a task as to paint the Soul, of which it is commonly said, that it understands all things but itself.
--Thomas Willis, The Anatomy of the Brain and Nerves (1664)
Dedication
To Charlotte, whose soul grew along with this book
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In this unprecedented history of a scientific revolution, award-winning author and journalist Carl Zimmer tells the definitive story of the dawn of the age of the brain and modern consciousness. Told here for the first time, the dramatic tale of how the secrets of the brain were discovered in seventeenth-century England unfolds against a turbulent backdrop of civil war, the Great Fire of London, and plague. At the beginning of that chaotic century, no one knew how the brain worked or even what it looked like intact. But by the century's close, even the most common conceptions and dominant philosophies had been completely overturned, supplanted by a radical new vision of man, God, and the universe. Presiding over the rise of this new scientific paradigm was the founder of modern neurology, Thomas Willis, a fascinating, sympathetic, even heroic figure at the center of an extraordinary group of scientists and philosophers known as the Oxford circle. Chronicled here in vivid detail are their groundbreaking revelations and the often gory experiments that first enshrined the brain as the physical seat of intelligence -- and the seat of the human soul. Soul Made Flesh conveys a contagious appreciation for the brain, its structure, and its many marvelous functions, and the implications for human identity, mind, and morality.

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