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 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


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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