Emanuel Swedenborg1688–1772

Animal economy

Swedenborg is best known as a Christian mystic who placed great store on the meanings of dreams. Before his revelations, which commenced in 1744, he wrote on a wide range of topics in science and philosophy. He is shown on the right in the title page of his book, Œconomia Regni Animalis (The Economy of the Animal Kingdom), in which he emphasised the anatomical basis for the soul. The text on the left, which partially masks his portrait, sets out his propositions regarding the functions of the brain. These include an appreciation that the cerebral cortex provides the basis for perception, cognition, motor control and thus the seat of the soul. He supported these conclusions with evidence from clinical cases (like stroke) and also from observations using a microscope: “If we study the cerebral cortex under a microscope, it is clear that the nerve fibres come forth from it like streams from a fountain. This is confirmed also by the observation that diseases that attack the brain when the brain has been injured—which one can be sure of when an autopsy is done—that these injuries can spread through the fibres that lead from the cerebral cortex to the muscles and that damage arises in the muscle movements thereby.” Swedenborg’s ideas about cortical localisation were ignored until the late 19th century, when his works were translated into English. He received his university education at Uppsala after which he travelled extensively in Europe before returning to Sweden.