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Edward Tyson's 1680 Account of the ‘Porpess' Brain and its Place in the History of Comparative Neurology

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Edward Tyson (1650–1708), a prominent London physician and an early fellow of the Royal Society is best known for his several anatomical contributions in the creation of primatology, including the preputial and coronal mucilaginous glands (Tyson's glands), later described by Alexis Littré. He also published the first comprehensive account of a single animal (the ‘porpess') and placed it in the context of a systematic and experimental methodology. This rare monograph accounts for the contention that Tyson was the founder of comparative anatomy in England, by using this ‘fish' to better understand the human condition. His description of the highly convoluted cetacean brain as well as his recognition of the many homologies with “land-quadrupeds”, rather than the fishes it resembled, constitutes a major landmark contribution to the history of biology. The prevailing theological thrust of training in ‘physick' ultimately led Tyson to evade the conundrum of how the human brain differs from that of animals, by attributing the intellectual uniqueness of man to endowments derived from God rather than the physical substance of the brain.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2003


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