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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

Elizaveta Shcherbakova

Towards the Earliest History of Pneuma

In my project, I intend to explore the early history of an important ancient psycho-physiological tradition that served as a framework for the emergence of such hugely influential concepts in Greek philosophy, medicine, and natural science as pneuma, innate heat, locus of cognition and others. This tradition has had a tremendous intellectual impact not just on ancient but, arguably, on Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern thought; and spread its influence far beyond the West to Byzantium and the Syriac and Arabic Middle East.
I am particularly interested in the role the so-called ‘Presocratics’ - especially, Heraclitus, Diogenes of Apollonia, Empedocles, Democritus, as well as other fifth-century thinkers – played in the formation and development of psycho-physiological doctrines of Greek physicians.
If Hellenistic and Imperial psychophysiology has received much scholarly attention, the same cannot be said about its earlier and earliest precursors. Overall, the current accounts of its beginnings and first steps are at best patchy and do not present a coherent picture. This lack of reliable historical foundation, in turn, skews the research on later and better-documented authors and doctrines – even such extensively studied ones as Aristotle, or the Hellenistic physiologists, like Diocles, Erasistratus or Herophilus; not to mention the so-called Pneumatic doctors of the Imperial period.
The aim of my project is, thus, firstly, to fill this gap and to explore how, and most importantly why, such concepts as pneuma (with all its varieties), innate heat, seat of the mind, etc. were first formed; how they interacted with each other; and how they initially functioned in various, sometimes very dissimilar, intellectual contexts.

Contact: lisa.sherbakova@gmail.com