Week 2a: Galen’s Embryo and Ibn Tufayl’s [Ebn Tophail] first section.

Please add some comments by Sunday night.

The Galen reading goes very well with the section we are reading from Ibn Tufayl.  Imagine the Galenic formation in ibn Tufayl’s primordial muck.

Galen Reading: What does the story about the musical entertainer tell you about Greco-Roman society?  Why the liver first?  What happens when you put blood in hot water?  Did Galen imagine tadpoles when discussing sperm/semen?  In the early stages of embryonic development, would Galen consider the thing to be more a human or more of a plant? Why?  When the embryo becomes an animal… what sort of animal?  Why?  How might Galen’s arguments factor into a modern debate about abortion rights?  Of the 3 main organs, which is formed last?  Using modern theory, why might arterial blood be finer and hotter?  Do you think it is possible that Galen realized any of this modern theory?   Can you make a pro-DNA argument for Galen?  Does the soul have a sense of identity from the start?  Why does the tongue fascinate Galen?  Does Galen seem reasonable to you?  What sort of proof is the best sort of proof for Galen?  What is the soul for Galen?

Ibn Tufayl Reading: Why did ibn Tufayl give two accounts for the origin of Hayy?  What story does the account with the king remind you of?   Where is the island?  When does the creation of Hayy take place (the mud version)?  How many bubbles/chambers?  What gives life to the mud?  Do you feel Genesis in this?  What are Duggs?  What sorts of things does young Hayy start to notice as he becomes aware of himself and his surroundings?  What did tails do for other animals?  Why did he want clothing?  How do eagles fit into this story?


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5 thoughts on “Week 2a: Galen’s Embryo and Ibn Tufayl’s [Ebn Tophail] first section.

  1. Galen begins his description of how the embryo develops with an anecdote about a musical entertainer, who “used to go with men”. The information she provides about coitus interruptus is valuable to Galen and all scientists at the time, but she is still looked down upon because of her sexual behavior. Would this woman have been able to expel the fetus (by jumping) if she had been married and a member of a more respected group in society? How was abortion viewed at the time, specifically if done by disreputable women? Why is it the woman that can houses the embryo and not the superior man? Is a woman’s body dirty or polluted because of its capability to bear a child? Though the reproductive process takes place within the woman’s body, the power of composition of the embryo is all said to solely come from the sperm. Does this stem from male’s insecurity with being removed from said process?
    The differentiation between fetus and plant, and the evolution from conception to birth through the different species of animals is interesting. In Galen’s view, the fetus must pass through the phases of intelligence and complexity, beginning with plants and moving through increasingly complex animals. Rather than the fetus having its own developmental process, Galen uses the comparison of other living things. Does he do this to just have some sort of proof? How does this relate to the development of a soul? Do animals that are closer to humans, and which have warmer blood, have a semblance of a soul? Or is having a soul specifically reserved for humans? In the final paragraph of the text, Galen mentions the theory that a universal soul constructs the embryo, and that this claim is blasphemous, because it groups humans with insects, for example. How does this theory intersect with religion?

  2. Galen posits on page 180 that ‘it appears that the entire subsequent construction of the embryo takes place by the power within the sperm…’. I suppose it makes sense that in such a male-dominated society that men, and thus Galen himself, should view sperm as so much more critical to the development of human life, yet I wonder whether there were other thinkers who gave less attention to the sperm’s role in conception, and more to the female’s contribution. I also wonder where Galen’s reasoning for the sperm’s major role in a developing foetus comes from, though I suppose he develops this idea more fully in his work ‘On Semen’.
    I also found it interesting that Galen should at a few points in his essay get sort of angry about other researchers remaining ignorant of the body’s internal system, saying that they act arrogantly in refusing to believe what his own research has proven to be correct. This is interesting considering that some of Galen’s theories themselves were indeed incorrect. I suppose it makes for a more forceful argument to refute other’s claims to correctness, but it makes me wonder how often in the world of science or indeed politics, attacking the theories of others is simply a way to avoid the idea that you yourself might be incorrect.

  3. When discussing the early development of the embryo, Galen describes the embryo being ‘plantlike’ in its development. He even says that he need not refer to the embryo as an animal yet. He discusses the plantlike characteristics of the development of the embryo using the metaphor of the umbilical cord being imitating the ‘roots’ of a plant. Mostly by being plant like there is not animal characteristic that has developed yet. I find it interesting that he begins with this comparison because when considering the point where science was when he was writing this it is understandable but I was thinking more on an ethical viewpoint it is suprising to me to think that it was ok to compare a human to a plant. Now there are many arguments and disagreements when thinking that humans have evolved from monkeys. Regardless, when thinking about abortion arguments in today’s society how this could come into play is by arguing that abortion is ok and not inhumane because at this stage of development, there are no animal/human characteristics. The embryo is just a ‘plant’ just a seed that is beginning to germinate. There has not yet been any personalization or development of specific features – it is all generic.
    This also relates to Galen’s discussion on how the soul plays into this (if I understood correctly) . He says that the soul does not have ‘a sense of identity’ from the start when he gives contradictions to those who argue this. He says that the soul later determines voluntary actions but not fromt he beginning as it does not make sense. For example he gives the example of a puppy trying to bite despite not having any teeth.So the embryo from the start is not affected or influenced yet by the soul making it more plant-like rather than animal.

  4. I’ll start this post by with what will probably be an awkward and confusing claim: while in the movie theatre watching “Midnight in Paris” last year, I had a spiritual “epiphany (I felt it but only half understand it):” I am Owen Wilson.

    (the following is my interpretation of what I read, not necessarily my opinion or what I believe)

    Now I’ll move onto why these readings reminded me of that moment. I’ll admit that I originally read pages 47-53 from the Tufyal document as opposed to the introduction–but I’m glad I did, as former discussed the intellectual tension between the form of bodies and matter and the “notion” within them or of them–which to me read like an attempt to find a distinct purpose to each component of the world we experience, (even as far as the purpose of the mind, the thought, the rock, the air, etc.—all encompassing). Where does the separation–if there is one–lie between the existence of that which “is,” (which can be seen, felt, experienced, studied, etc.), and the permission for/meaning of/purpose of that things existence.

    Those sound like abstract/complicated words, but can be applied to the concept of abortion. When, if ever, is the embryo (the existence) separate from it’s soul (meaning or purpose)?

    To me it seems that in both texts, beyond man’s incomprehension of/desired separation from bad things, there’s little evidence against “oneness,” or as Galen refers to it, “the Soul that extends through the entire universe.” If everything was created at some point of origin, wouldn’t that original point of origin, the ultimate “source” HAVE to be the same for everything and everyone? And in that, isn’t everything essentially same thing? (Hence, I am Owen Wilson). Although an embryo may not have thoughts, a personality, an ego, experiences, or even a face, isn’t it essentially the same as everything else? In the theory of oneness and ultimate unity, an embryo dying would carry the same weight as a 20 year old dying which would carry the same weight as a plant dying. The human’s unique capacity to think complexly and to acquire knowledge doesn’t make the human separate from everything which doesn’t have the same capacity. The embryo is not more or less for “having a soul” or a not having one, even if this claim only justified by the idea that “more” or “less” -ness is not really possible in the scheme of ultimate existence.

  5. Galen’s positioning of the embryo in the womb is actually quite elegant, and serves to explain a few things well. The membrane surrounding the embryo, he says, contains “a very large number of veins and arteries” which are in the processing of forming the fetus. The veins and arteries of the womb join with the veins and arteries of the embryo, “the extremities of which feed into the space within the womb.” This, Galen says, is the only way in which the embryo is connected to the womb, and it is only through these veins and arteries that the growth of the bearer (ie. the mother) is connected to the growth of the embryo.

    Taking the image elsewhere than where Galen takes it, imagine what were to happen were the seed “to come out” as it were? What would happen to the veins and arteries of the mother’s body that end in the womb? Every month, for all intents and purposes, an egg is formed; if it is never fertilized, after the period of one month it will “fall” out; if it is fertilized and a miscarriage is induced (ie. by jumping up and down) it will fall out as well. Without an embryo complete with veins and arteries to join with them, the veins and arteries of the womb would be left open. This presents a cohesive, consistent explanation of the menstrual cycle and the bleeding that occurs during a miscarriage.

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