Art and the Brain: Chapter 3. Ancient Foundations

Topics include:

Ancient Egypt
Ancient Greece
The Greek Body
Mind and Brain
Galen to the Middle Ages


The range of diagrams also demonstrates that people were looking to explain a range of functions in the brain and the body, much as we continue to seek explanations (Figs. 3.6-3.8). Of great interest comparatively is the importance of localization modalities, holistic conceptions, and how abstract ideas like imagination and common sense factored into their thinking. Commonly, older mappings located imagination in the anterior ventricle, memory in the posterior ventricle, and reason in between. Indeed, the Islamic medical philosopher Avicenna (980–1037) wrote in the early eleventh century that the sensus communis was housed in the “faculty of fantasy,” receiving “all the forms that are imprinted on the five senses.” While he believed that memory preserved what common sense received, the great medieval anatomist Mondino de Liuzzi (1270–1326) wrote in his Anatomy (1316) that common sense lay in the middle of the brain and addressed earlier contradictions by stating, “there is only the sensus communis which is variously called fantasy and imagination” (Mondino de Liuzzi 1316/1474). Shortly after Mondino performed the first public dissection in 1315, in a Bologna theater, an anatomical revolution took place. This is the topic of the next chapter.

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