Edward Barnet

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History of Science, Stanford University

2018 to 2019
Research Fellow

Homo Musicus: The Early Modern Musical Science of the Human Being

My work examines homo musicus, or the musical conception of the human being that informed how natural philosophers in 17th and 18th century Europe understood the functions of life. Beginning in the 17th century, natural philosophers increasingly refused any recourse to hidden causes and abstract metaphysical principles: all natural phenomena were to be explained according to simple mechanistic principles, intended to account for empirical observation. Homo musicus developed in this framework: nervous fibres were compared to musical strings, whose proper tuning was the condition of good health; the mind became a harpsichord, whose keys corresponded to the actions of the body; the nervous system could be a bell, whose ringing figured every sensation. Moreover, unlike the mechanist metaphor of the clock, Homo musicus offered a seamless explanation for the unity of the body, while also suggesting the cause of human sensibility by virtue of resonating fibres.
Read more about Edward's work here.