Animal spirits and movement.

Lyle's Golden Syrup

“Out of the strong came forth sweetness”
Swarm of bees generated from a lion’s carcass on a tin of Lyle’s Golden Syrup.

What I remember most vividly from Matthew Cobb‘s lecture Life Before Linnaeus, given last May at the Manchester Museum to accompany the exhibition A Place for Everything celebrating the Linnaeus Tercentenary, are the examples of spontaneous generation he presented – mice generated from grain, lion carcasses giving birth to bees, and the like (he actually mentioned the wonderfully out-of-date Golden Syrup tins with their biblical symbolism as well).

I came across his work again when reading his article on seventeenth-century Dutch naturalist and microscopist Jan Swammerdam in the latest issue of TLS last weekend, and I think I can already predict what will stay stuck in my mind this time: Swammerdam was the first to demonstrate that movement – the contraction of muscles – was not, as Descartes had claimed, caused by the influx of animal spirits into the muscle.

More on Swammerdam’s experiment (which consisted of placing a frog heart in an air-tight syringe) here.

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