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Mathematical Medicine





When mathematics developed, applications of that science were made to
physiology and to medicine. Under the influence of Borelli, the school
of Iatro-Mathematical medicine developed and it flourished long after
him. Foster, in his "History of Physiology," says:

Borelli was so successful in his mechanical solutions of
physiological problems that many coming after him readily rushed to
the conclusion that all such problems could be solved by the same
methods. Some of his disciples proposed to explain all physiological
phenomena by mathematical formulas and hypotheses concerning forces
and the shapes and sizes of particles.



MAGNETISM

Magnetism occupied a large place in the minds of the great thinkers of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There is no doubt that
Paracelsus accepted, quite literally, what we embody in figurative
expressions with regard to magnetism. To him the attraction of sex was
magnetic. People had personal magnetism because they possessed
physical powers by which they attracted others. He considered that
these powers of attraction were expressions in human beings of the
power of the magnet in the physical world, and that the two were
literally equivalents. Kepler, one of the deepest thinkers of his
time, evidently entertained the idea that the magnet represented the
soul of the physical world, and that the planets were held in
connection with the sun and their satellites with the planets, by
magnetic attraction. We now call it the attraction of gravitation. We
understand the force no better than before, but have changed the
terms. Descartes theorized much along magnetic lines, and felt that by
the use of certain expressions he was adding to knowledge, though he
was really only multiplying terms.


Human Magnetism.--How seriously the question of human magnetism was
taken will perhaps be best appreciated from one old fallacy. For a
long period it was supposed that human beings were so highly magnetic
that if a man were exposed in an open boat, in perfectly calm weather,
in the open sea, where no currents would disturb him, his face would
turn to the north, under the same magnetic influences as caused the
needle to point to the north! Many studies of magnetism were made at
this time, so that the subject attracted widespread attention.
Columbus had made some rather startling observations on his voyage to
America with regard to the declination of the magnetic needle, and,
during the century following, Norman and Gilbert made interesting
studies in the same subject. Father Kircher wrote two books on
magnetism and there were a number of others written by university
professors. Advantage was taken of this thoroughly scientific interest
in magnetism to erect a whole body of pseudo-scientific medicine
supposed to be founded on magnetic principles. The same theories were
also applied to supposed explanations of various psychological
phenomena.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the application of
magnets was a favorite treatment for a great many diseases. Especially
were they useful in the treatment of muscular pains and aches and the
chronic diseases which so disturbed men's minds. Many of the joint
troubles of the aged, the muscular pains and aches that develop from
the wrong use of muscles, and the vague internal discomforts which
often disturb men so seriously, were cured by the application of
magnets. Perkins' success with his tractors shows how much can be
accomplished in this way.





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Previous: Alchemy



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