Circulation: William Harvey’s Revolutionary Idea

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Circulation by Thomas Wright | Waterstones

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Cancel Delete comment. Deleting comment Several things make me particularly fond of this biography; one is the way in which Wright trenchantly shows Harvey to have been a product of his times, despite being famed for having thought ahead of these. The emphasis placed upon practical experience by the University of Padua may have inspired the vivisections he performed in his private research chamber, hoping to cast light on the truth about blood flow.

Poetry, prayers and common parlance would all have imbued him with a reverence for the heart, the muscle he referred to as the 'tutelary deity of the body'. I could certainly feel the heat when reading the accounts of sharp tongues castigating him, and fervently defending the reigning, though obsolete, explanation of blood flow put forward by Galen in ancient Rome.

It is suggested that the acceptance of his writings of the motion of the heart and blood may have engendered a greater change in general thought than he had wished for, or anticipated. While Harvey was troubled by not knowing the Aristotelian final cause, 'the ultimate purpose' of circulation, a thinker such as Descartes, with his man-is-machine proposition, revelled in the hydraulic system which had been identified in the human body, and was fully satisfied with this.

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