Cardiocentric neurophysiology: the persistence of a delusion

C.U.M. Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Aristotle is well known to have taught that the brain was a mere coolant apparatus for overheated blood and to have located the hegemonikon in the heart. This teaching was hotly disputed by his immediate successors in the Alexandrian Museum, who showed that the brain played the central role in psychophysiology. This was accepted and developed by the last great biomedical figure of classical antiquity - Claudius Galen. However, Aristotle's cardiocentric theory did not entirely disappear and this article traces its influence through the Arabic physicians of the Islamic ascendancy, into the European Middle Ages where Albertus Magnus' attempt to reconcile cardiocentric and cerebrocentric physiology was particularly influential. It shows how cardiocentricity was sufficiently accepted to attract the attention of, and require refutation by, many of the great names of the Renaissance, including Vesalius, Fernel, and Descartes, and was still taken seriously by luminaries such as William Harvey in the mid-seventeenth century. The article, in rehearsing this history, shows the difficulty of separating the first-person perspective of introspective psychology and the third-person perspective of natural science. It also outlines an interesting case of conflict between philosophy and physiology.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)6-13
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of the History of the Neurosciences
    Issue number1
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Jan 2013


    • Albertus Magnus
    • Aristotle
    • Avicenna
    • brain
    • Descartes
    • heart
    • Hegemonikon
    • Hippocrates
    • Vesalius


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