The neural circulation and the moderns in seventeenth century Spain

Jesús V. COBO
Department of Mental Health, Corporación Sanitaria Parc Taulí de Sabadell; and Center for the History of the Sciences, University Autònoma of Barcelona, Spain

Neural circulation, a hypothesis that explains the functioning of the central nervous system, was developed during the last decades of the 17th and first years of the 18th Century. This hypothesis could not only explain the mechanical muscular movement of the human body, but also the origin of the sensory senses, emotions and thought. In the context of medicine at the Spanish court at the end of the 17th Century, a movement of innovation appears with the name novator. This movement, fed by the scientific revolution (the Moderns) in Europe and supported by medics, surgeons, mathematicians and physicists, grouped the elite of the court scientists at that time.


Describe the hypothesis on neural circulation developed by the novator movement and relate these hypothesis to the historical and medical context of Europe’s neurological science of that time, and specially in the context of the moderns.


The authors of the novator movement follow the modern european interpretation of the functioning of the brain, based on the principles of neural circulation. This interpretation is basically iatrochemical in the first generation of the movement, meaning that it explains the functioning of the brain according to the principles of chemistry of that time. The concept of neural circulation, like blood circulation or iatrochemist, represented the core of the new knowledges and interpretations about the physiology and pathology of the human body. The principal authors of the movement supported the theory. In fact, the circular interpretation of the neurophysiology represented an theoretical and academically point of discussion, linked to the clinical practice of the authors.


Neural circulation is a hypothesis that explains the functioning of the central nervous system. This hypothesis had a remarkable success in Europe at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th Century. Spanish medical science at the end of the 17th Century, and more specifically the authors of the novator movement, adopted the new theoretical and therapeutical knowledge of these hypothesis and made several contributions to them.


  1. CLARKE, Edwin (1978) The neural circulation. The use of analogy in medicine. Medical History, vol. 22, pp. 291-307.
  2. MARTÍNEZ VIDAL, Àlvar (1989) [Neurosciences and Scientific Revolution in Spain: The Neural Circulation] [In spanish]. Madrid, CSIC.

Session X
Saturday, 24 June 2006, 5.35 - 6.00 pm

11th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Pavia, Italy, 2006