Samantha, just Samantha (samantilles) wrote,
Samantha, just Samantha

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Well, at least I got one bit of good news today… I got a perfect score for my graduate History Of Science exam *woot!*  The only comment on there was “excellent essay” and a bunch of underlines to signify the important parts of the essay….

And just because I can, I’ve included it here for anyone who is interested in Galen versus Aristotle *g*… just a warning to someone who might think it cool to turn it in, its listed with and several other cheating softwares that universities use these days…

“Describe Galen’s system of medicine and the several traditions from which he drew his concepts and practice.  Compare what Galen did with Aristotle’s achievement (don’t dwell on Aristotle, just use him as a foil to talk about Galen).  How did Galen use the work of his predecessors: in what specific ways did he adopt their ideas and practices, and in what specific ways did he reject or improve upon them?  What happened to Galen’s work in the early and later middle ages?”

 Upon looking at the question given, I first asked why choose to compare Galen with Aristotle.  After all Aristotle’s legacy was not specifically in medicine, but in natural philosophy, astronomy, and even zoology.  To compare Galen to another physician, it wouldn’t be to Aristotle perhaps, but Hippocrates.  It was Hippocrates that developed the theory of the four humors, a balance of four vital substances within the body embracing the older concept of Aristotle and his predecessors, the four elements of fire, water, earth, and wind.  Hippocrates also secularized and separated the art and skills of medicine and surgery from natural philosophy, seeking to find answers to ailments and diseases only in the natural realm.  By doing so, he allowed medicine to advance and develop as an independent subject of study, rather than a tangent to the natural philosophies already studied in the universities.  Galen might also be compared to Herophilus of Chalcedon, who developed the differences between veins and arteries, the theory of the pulse, as well as a generalized understanding of the nervous system and his studies with the eye.  From Herophilus, Galen adopted much of his work, and developed his studies accepting the general use of veins and arteries as well as ideas about the nervous system and Herophilus’s observations on the vital organs.  From Erasistratus of Ceos Galen borrowed his ideas on the pumping of the heart, though Galen argued against Erasistratus stating that blood, not pneuma, flowed through arteries.  At first glance, any of these three prominent physicians would seem to serve better as a comparison to Galen than Aristotle.  These three, Hippocrates, Herophilus, and Erasistratus, also served as the medical background needed for Galen to continue in his studies, and it is evident in Galen’s work that he borrowed heavily from all three.

However, despite superficial doubts on why Aristotle should be chosen as a comparison, several comparisons can be made.  Aristotle, while best known for so many other areas of study, including astronomy and philosophy, was also a zoologist.  His primary work with the study of animals became a foundation for medical practices in his and the following eras.  Galen also based much of his scientific study on the dissection and study of animals, especially the barbary ape.  While Galen inspected and studied human specimens when possible, much of his work centers around the anatomy of the apes, used in analogy to humans.  Like Aristotle, Galen reintroduced the idea of the vital spirit, and acknowledged divine intersession with the creation and continuance of life, calling upon Aristotle’s Demiurge.  This acceptance and use of a singular god within the scope of life allowed both Aristotle’s and Galen’s work to flourish in the monotheistic Jewish, Islamic, and Christian societies and universities throughout the centuries.  Had Galen’s theories not contained something along those lines, chances are his works would be as sparse as those of his predecessors.  They survived because they were accepted and used as a foundation especially in the Islamic society and because they proved to some extent the existence of God and validated the faith that ruled supreme. Among those who best followed up Galen’s work were the Islamic physicians Rhazes, Haly Abbas, and Avicenna.  Galen also widely adopted Aristotle’s philosophies, and worked to incorporate those back into medicine, which Hippocrates had taken out.  However, by reintroducing them after medicine had become a subject of study on its own, by reintroducing philosophy into it made it more intellectual and worthy of study.  Galen also introduced philosophy back into medicine, using medicine as the foundation, unlike Aristotle and his predecessors, who had philosophy as a foundation and medicine as a tangential course of study.  By doing so, Galen could reintroduce Aristotle and the monotheistic beliefs back into medicine without destroying the work Hippocrates had done secularizing the study of medicine in order to advance it as an independent course of study. 

Yet another means of comparison between Aristotle and Galen is the idea of their “achievement”.  Rather than comparing individual ideas of the two philosophers and scientists, by comparing their achievement perhaps gives greater understanding on just how influential these two men were in their respective fields, as various as they may be.  Aristotle’s achievement is, according to Lindberg, “its degree of success in treating the philosophical problems of its own day.”(Lindberg 67)  His breadth of study, from “the nature of the fundamental stuff, the proper means of knowing it, the problems of change and causation, the basic structure of the cosmos” to the “nature of deity and its relationship to material things” (Lindberg 67) portrayed a philosopher well in tuned with the world around him.  A testament to Aristotle’s achievement is how long he survived as an influence in others’ work, from his own time to the present.  Galen’s survival throughout the centuries also attests to his achievement.  Galen’s model of the tripartite system would survive throughout several centuries until Harvey and his contemporaries.  Galen is best known for bringing together many of the various philosophies and theories surrounding medicine and life into one coherent idea. “Galen pulled together several strands of ancient thought: he summed up more than six hundred years of Greek and Roman medicine; at the same time, he fitted that medicine into an ancient philosophical and theological framework.” (Lindberg 131)

What was Galen’s system of medicine?  Galen adopted from Plato and wrote on a tripartite soul, and correlatively a tripartite physiology, with the centers of the body at the liver, heart and brain.  The brain operated the nervous system and motor functions.  The heart was the center of the arterial system while the liver was the center for the veins.  The heart then is the center of emotions and the liver to appetites and desires.  According to Galen,  food enters the intestines after being internally cooked within the stomach, where it then flows to the liver, which disperses the nourishment to the entire body via the venous system.  The nourishment from the venous system makes its way to the heart, where the blood is heated once more in the heart.  Meanwhile the lungs fill with air and exhale to help cool the blood and keep it at a delicate balance. (Perhaps an observation from steam coming from our breathing in cold air? Vital heat exhaling from our systems to create a cooler balance inside?)  As the venous blood moves from the left to the right ventricle of the heart, it then becomes arterial blood as its mixed with pneuma and is refined further by vital heat.  The arterial blood moves to the brain and other vital organs.  As the blood enters the brain, it is processed by the rete mirabile where the blood is refined once more and given psychic pneuma, which then circulates throughout the body and gives the body its ability to move.  Galen was mistaken in the existence of the rete mirabile as it existed in the barbary ape, but the analogy failed to compare in humans.  However, because dissection was not highly looked upon at the time in society, little experimentation and observation on the innermost workings of the body would remain out of reach for several centuries.

What happened to Galen’s work throughout the middle ages?  It was quickly adopted and translated by the Muslims and further advanced upon by several Islamic physicians, as detailed above.  However it seems that with the decline of the Roman empire came the decline of intellectual study of medicine.  Throughout the early middle ages, most medicinal advances were primarily in the skill of practicing medicine rather than studying the theory behind it.  Lancing boils, curing of exterior symptoms, and even religious healing became the norm to all except the rich and powerful.  Slowly medicine began to join the ranks as an intellectual subject in the universities, though an intellectual physician with a degree from a university was incredibly rare.  The church held sway in the middle ages with concern to medicine, especially with the idea of religious healing and the idea that pain came from living in sin.  As practitioners and students of medicine were once again introduced to the works of Galen, advancements in urinalysis and studies of the pulse became the primary means of diagnosing maladies.   Earlier philosophies, including astronomy, also joined back in to the diagnosis of problems, philosophies which were earlier incorporated into medicine by Galen.  In the later middle ages as medical intellectual advancements came and students returned to studying Galen, dissections were used as a tool to observe Galen’s research, often using the corpse of an executed criminal.  However, it should be noted that rather than to undermine Galen’s research or advance knowledge in the medical field, dissections were used to illustrate Galen’s notes only, or as Lindberg notes, for pedagogical purposes only.  Harvey would come around in the Sixteenth century and correct Galen’s work on the circulation of the blood, ending Galen’s supreme rule as the master of medicine that he had held since before his death in 210 AD. 

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