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Thread: 14th Century Biology/Science

  1. #1 14th Century Biology/Science 
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    Can anyone inform me as to the extent, or general boundary, of science/biology in the 14th century?

    I'm writing a story that takes place in the 14th century, and I need to know how far biology was studied. Like..., did scientists or biologists know of atoms and molecules in the brain and whatnot? Better yet, did they know much of biology in the molecular aspect of science?


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    j
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    The short answer would be, 'No'.

    The problem with your question is, at that time literacy was still limited in many places. So all we know is what scholars knew. Science, as we know it, was practiced not by scholars, but by blacksmiths, farmers, coopers, brewers, felters, and, of course, those weird old women who knew to make willow bark tea.

    Such people experimented, made observations, and drew conclusions. However, they did not have microscopes, so molecular biology was not within their grasp.


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    Yep... no molecular biology back then. The first one to even notice inheritance laws in live beings was Gregor Mendel in the 19th century, and he didn't go molecular yet.

    Leonardo Da Vinci was an anatomist... one of the first ones I think, and that was in the 15th century. No molecules there either, just organ dissecting and drawing.
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    They basically didn't know anything, other than some very general anatomy that they learned from studying corpses - and even then, they didn't actually know what most of the organs did. They hadn't even realized that living things ran off chemical reactions. They thought that living matter had some special, almost magical quality that allowed it to be animate.
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    Wasn't back then when doctors used to "bleed" people to treat deseases?
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    Well, Leonardo was one of the first, and perhaps most famous of the starting anatomists..., but there were anatomists before him. In the 14th century, there was a man by the name of Andreas Vesalius, who was a renowned anatomist. He did most of his studies on the human brain. In order to study the brain, what better way than to have visual contact with an actual specimen?

    Vesalius was a grave man..., in that he hung around graveyards and dissected corspes in order to learn of the human anatomy and the brain. He even gave public demonstrations of dissection. Awkward, no? He also challenged another anatomists' views (Galen) on anatomy on the grounds that Galen never dissected human corpses.

    And I'm sorry for the phrasing of my question... Umm... What I want to know is..., what was the extent of studies on the human brain? I know that Vesalius learned that certain parts of the brain control certain actions and functions, but was it known, at all, that there are chemicals in our brains that transmit messages and effect those segments of the brain?

    Like, I know that serotonin effects your sleeping cycles... - would anyone in the 14th century know anything similar to that?
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    Quote Originally Posted by magiusavvail
    I know that Vesalius learned that certain parts of the brain control certain actions and functions, but was it known, at all, that there are chemicals in our brains that transmit messages and effect those segments of the brain?

    Like, I know that serotonin effects your sleeping cycles... - would anyone in the 14th century know anything similar to that?
    No, I don't think they new anything like that. Keep in mind that they didn't even realize that our bodies ran off chemical reactions.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    Quote Originally Posted by magiusavvail
    I know that Vesalius learned that certain parts of the brain control certain actions and functions, but was it known, at all, that there are chemicals in our brains that transmit messages and effect those segments of the brain?

    Like, I know that serotonin effects your sleeping cycles... - would anyone in the 14th century know anything similar to that?
    No, I don't think they new anything like that. Keep in mind that they didn't even realize that our bodies ran off chemical reactions.
    I don't entirely agree with Scifor Refugee; herbalists did know that the tisanes of specific plants [poppies, foxglove] had certain effects. Exactly what the herbalists might have know can not be certain.

    So, do you want a character to experience behavior characteristic of elevated levels of serotonin? Find a natural source of serotonin; or of a compound that stimulates production of serotonin. If there isn't one, find a naturallly occuring compound, or combination of compounds, that would [or even might] have the same effect.

    If you are very careful about the terminology you use, you can work biochemistry-based medicine into the story as long as don't use words like 'cells', 'biochemistry', 'neuro-transmitter'. Do some research on the medical practices of the time to find the right language.
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    Quote Originally Posted by j
    I don't entirely agree with Scifor Refugee; herbalists did know that the tisanes of specific plants [poppies, foxglove] had certain effects. Exactly what the herbalists might have know can not be certain.
    Well yes, people have known for thousands of years that certain plants are poisonous and that others can be used as medicines; but I don't think they actually realized that it was a chemical effect that was taking place.
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    As we understand biochemistry? No, probably not. But they may have understood that the essence of the foxglove could alleviate a choleric humor. [Don't quote me on this, I haven't double checked my medieval pharmacopeia.]

    My point was that if the OP wants to work a medicine [or poison] known to modern biochemistry into fiction set in the 14th century, [s]he can find a way to. It will take some research, though.
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    Quote Originally Posted by j
    But they may have understood that the essence of the foxglove could alleviate a choleric humor. [Don't quote me on this, I haven't double checked my medieval .
    Ophiolite adopts severe expression:

    Consistent with the terms of pariticipation in The Science Forum, no medieval herbalist's remedies should be dispensed without first drawing up a thorough astrological chart for the patient and, in severe cases, examining the intestines of a wild boar for appropriate augeries.

    Ophiolite retreats, with the intention of getting stoned with a philosopher, or something like that.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cuete
    Wasn't back then when doctors used to "bleed" people to treat deseases?
    that, and leaches. yuck.
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