Dr. Orly Lewis: Exploring, Understanding and Interpreting the Body – Methods, Theory and Practice

Dr. Orly Lewis: Exploring, Understanding and Interpreting the Body – Methods, Theory and Practice
Activity Date: 
Monday, Jan 16, 2017

The main topic of the colloquium was the means by which ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and physicians learned about the structure of the human body and its parts (anatomy) and the functions of these parts (physiology) on a generic level, as well as about the condition of the individual bodies of their patients at particular moments in time (diagnostics). In addition, we explored the challenges which face historians who study ancient anatomical and physiological ideas but who have no medical training and thus limited acquaintance with the phenomena observed by the ancient anatomists. Anatomical and physiological observations made by Greco-Roman physicians during dissections, vivisections and the treatment of patients were among the means and methods of investigation which we discussed, as was the role of theory in guiding the observations and the conclusions drawn from these observations. We looked briefly at diagnostic methods, in particular, the classification of types of pulse and pain; and discussed the ancients' claim that only a physician well-versed in anatomical and physiological research will be able to diagnose his patients accurately.
In addition, I demonstrated by means of images the difficulty of interpreting the phenomena observed during dissections. In this context I told also of my own recent and enlightening experience attending anatomy labs and how these have been helping my research, with respect both to epistemology and to the methods and technicalities of dissection. An important question was raised by the audience, namely, whether, how and to what extent should scholars ‘practice’ their field of theoretical investigation (should, for instance, a student of religion studies gain experience in religious practice?). The difference among fields and topics in this respect was noted as were the methodological questions relevant to the field of ancient medicine, e.g.: the mixing of historical and modern perspectives and theoretical frameworks; and the dangers of falling into the ‘trap’ of anachronism which was influential in the 19th and early 20th centuries.