Module 3: Experimentation and Discovery


  1. Students will articulate ways in which the creation and expansion of knowledge is conditioned by and subsequently affects cultural contexts.
  2. Students will be able to describe both sides of the ethical debates surrounding dissection and vivisection.
  3. Students will be able to differentiate between empiricist, rationalist, and methodist schools of thought.

Alexandrian Contexts

Guido Majno, The Healing Hand, Ch.8 (This reading is 25 pages not including the endnotes, however, there are a lot of images.  This is an easily accessible, engaging reading.  Students will have a lot of fun with this one.  Majno discusses the progression of medical knowledge and the import context surrounding discovery.  The interdisciplinary nature of medical discovery is also emphasized here, as it is in Galen’s The Best Doctor is Also a Philosopher.)

Assignment: Students could adopt different philosophical schools and argue about the number of chambers in the heart.

Reviel Netz, Ludic Proof (149-160) (This is a resource for instructors of the course.  In this section Netz draws out the use of metaphor in scientific language and the interaction of the scientific with the literary.  This text shows how Alexandrian authors and mathematicians and scientists all influenced each other in the unique environment of the Museion.  The discussion of medical naming begins on page 157.)

Assignment: You could have students review Netz 157-160 in class and work together (as a class or in groups) to create metaphorical names for different body parts.

Dissection and Vivisection

Heinrich von Staden, “The Discovery of the Body: Human Dissection and Its Cultural Contexts in Ancient Greece,” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 65 (1992): 223-241. (This reading is 15 pages not including the endnotes, which are not necessary for undergraduates to read in order to understand the argument.  This article is clear and a good model of scholarship for students. Von Staden illustrates how the cultural conditions contributed to the brief emergence of the practice of human vivisection.  The first section is an introduction to the rest of the article.  The second section outlines the cultural constraints around human dissection.  The discussion of τέμνω will allow students to engage with Greek terms and get an idea of what philology involves.  The third section looks at the context that emboldened Herophilus and Erasistratus to overcome these constraints.  Of particular interest might be the flourishing of discovery under monarchy, as opposed to democracy.  In the fourth and final section von Staden postulates why the practice disappears after Herophilus and Erasistratus.  Von Staden shows how vivisection is truly a “stunning moment in the history of science.”)

Pages 86-92 about Herophilus, from James Longrigg, Greek Medicine: From the Heroic to the Hellenistic Age, A Source Book.  This is divided further into sections on body parts: the brain and nervous system, vascular system, the liver, the eye, and reproductive organs.  It would be useful to compare the level of detail in the Hippocratic corpus to the level of detail used to describe the functions of the body after vivisection.)

Galen “On Anatomical Procedures (selections) (There are 37 pages in this entire reading, however, it is very easy to excerpt.  The descriptions of dissections of animals is graphic and can be troubling.  At a minimum I would suggest reading Book 2, Chapter 8 (pp. 181-184) and Chapter 10 (pp. 186-188).  Chapter 8 gives an example of Galen’s methods of reasoning through a problem.  Also, this chapter is on the heart, which will reinforce what they have already in the chapter from Majno.  Chapter 10 addresses the question of whether or not there is a heart bone, and describes the dissection of an elephant.  Here we also get a sense of the types of rivalries and competitions that existed between medical professionals.)

Maud W. Gleason’s chapter “Shock and Awe: the performance dimension of Galen’s anatomy demonstrations” from Galen and the world of knowledge (pages 85-114). This is a 29 page chapter. There is a brief, untranslated quote at the beginning of the article, which you may want to translate for them.  This article is slow going at first, but the pace picks up as Gleason discusses the evidence.  This article addresses the performative aspect of Galen’s public vivisections.  Gleason focuses on Galen’s projection of power as the Master of Truth.  The first section, Anatomy Contests, gives a full picture of the competitive aspects of public vivisection.  On page 92 there is an interesting anecdote about how Galen gained his first imperial appointment through a demonstration of a vivisection and, later, on pages 97-100 Gleason details the demonstration of voice and breath using a pig.  The second section, Anatomy and Wondering Competitions, briefly looks at the use of reanimation in medical performances.  The third section, Blood and Force (Reading Between the Lines), discusses the importance of restraining and positioning the animals and the avoidance of spurts of blood, unless necessary to illustrate a point.  The fourth section, Layers of Meaning in Anatomical Display, asks thoughtful questions concerning the impact of such displays upon the audience members.  The fifth section, Seeking Truth from Bodies: Criminal Interrogations, draws comparisons between Galen’s vivisections and the torture and interrogation of criminals.  The sixth section, Anatomy and the Arena, Galen is compared to the Emperor presiding over the gladiatorial games as well as the gladiator who shows courage and charisma.  The seventh and final section, Rhetorics of Anatomy, focuses on Galen’s rhetoric of unity and homology.  Galen, in these performances, wants to show the perfect unity of nature, but he must be careful to keep the line between human and animal in tact.  This article may be difficult in some spots, however, it gives a sense for Galen as the showman, the magician who reveals the truth through discovery and experimentation.)

Empiricists, Rationalists,  and Methodists

Michael Frede, “Introduction” in Galen: Three Treatises on the Nature of Science (The Introduction is 25 pages long.  In the beginning of the chapter,  Frede summarizes the scholarly debate, or lack of debate, about medical knowledge and philosophy.  This may be useful for students at this stage of the course as they should be thinking about how to incorporate secondary sources into their own writing.  There is a brief biography of Galen (starting on xii), followed by an examination of his relationship with and use of philosophy in his own writings.  Students may need quick definitions of terms like “Platonist,” “Peripatetic,” “Sceptic,” and “Epicurean.”  The next section, “The Dispute on the Nature of Medical Knowledge,” gives a summary of the history of medical knowledge, which will be a good affirmation of how much they have learned already.  Frede seamlessly moves into the development of the debate between Empiricists and Rationalists (xxii).  He clearly outlines the opposition of reason and experience, going all the way back to Plato.  On pages xxvi-xxviii he summarizes the views of the Empiricists.  The summary of Rationalist views is on pages xxviii-xxix.  Frede then describes the development of the Methodist view until the end of the section on page xxxi.  Now he turns to Galen in “Galen’s Position in the Debate.”  Galen does not follow any sect, but sees the value in each, as well as their faults.  Frede concludes the chapter with Galen’s contribution to philosophical thought.  This is a fantastic overview of the interaction between philosophy and medicine and the debate of how medical knowledge is gained.  However, there are a lot of names with which students may not be familiar.  They may need encouragement not to worry about the lists of names that are unfamiliar and to focus, instead, on the points Frede is making.)

Galen, “On Sects for Beginners” (starts at page 3) from Galen: Three Treatises on the Nature of Science. This is 17 pages long and can be easily divided by chapters: Chapter 1. a short summary of the difference between Empiricists and Rationalists, Chapter 2. terminology and theory of Empiricists with an example of treatment, Chapter 3. theory of Rationalists and example of treatment, Chapter 4. each sect arrives at the same treatment, but uses different paths to that treatment, Chapter 5. arguments between the Rationalists and Empiricists, Chapter 6. how the Methodists are different from the other sects, Chapter 7. the Methodist position, Chapter 8. an Empiricists argues against a Methodist, Chapter 9. the long rebuttal of the Rationalist.  This would be an enjoyable text for students to read. It is easy to digest and can be broken up over a few classes.  Chapters 7-9 are particularly amusing as the sects argue with and jab at each other.  At this point, it would be helpful to ask the question, “How does practice affect discovery?”  You can also bring it back to dissection and vivisection.  Would a Rationalist/Empiricists/Methodist support this?  Why or why not?

Assignment: Divide the class into three groups, Empiricists, Methodists, and Rationalists, and have them treat a patient from a case study, perhaps the rabid dog case in Chapter 4.  You could also use one of the case studies from Chapter X of Galen’s Outline of Empiricism.  Here are some modern case studies.

Galen, “An Outline of Empiricism” (case studies, starts at page 23) from Galen: Three Treatises on the Nature of Science. This is 22 pages long and divided into chapters.  Each chapter has a brief summary as a subtitle.  There are four case studies of elephantiasis in Chapter X.  I would recommend only assigning this chapter.

Celsus, On Medicine, Proem to Book 1 (This reading is 9 pages long.  Although only a few pages, this reading is rather long and would be best broken down into sections.  It begins with a history of medicine, with which the students will be familiar from the first two modules.  Next, Celsus outlines the divisions of medicine and the debate concerning reason and experience.  Beginning at 23, he lays out the argument for the usefulness of dissection and vivisection, but later (40-44) he shows that it is not necessary.  He returns to the Empiricists and explains how their methods can lead to treatment of new diseases, and how experience is the ultimate teacher and innovator (27-39).  It might be useful to compare our use of aspirin.  We have used it for decades, but we did not begin to understand how it worked until the early 1990’s. Here is an article about this research.  At 54-57, Celsus explains how the Methodists are different from the Rationalists and the Empiricists.  At 74, he finally, clearly lays out his position.