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J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 76:1711-1712 doi:10.1136/jnnp.2005.073858
  • Historical note

Vis attractiva and vis nervosa

  1. E H Reynolds
  1. Institute of Epileptology, Weston Education Centre, King’s College, Denmark Hill Campus; Cutcombe Road, London SE5 6PJ; reynolds@buckles.u-net.com

      Isaac Newton (1642–1727) transformed our understanding of the physical world by introducing the concept of an attractive force, vis attractiva, or gravity, and applying mathematical principles for the discovery of natural laws. In the last three centuries this Newtonian approach has gradually led to our modern understanding of the Universe, especially through the work of Michael Faraday (1791–1867) and Robert Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879) in the 19th century and Einstein (1879–1955) in the 20th century.1

      Likewise, adopting a similar Newtonian strategy, the proposal of a nervous force or vis nervosa by Juri (George) Prochaska (1749–1820), Professor of “Anatomie, Physiologie, und Augenarzneykunde” in Vienna, has gradually transformed our understanding of the nervous system.2 Prochaska was a pioneer in neurophysiology and strove to make physiology a branch of experimental physics.3 He describes his concept of vis nervosa in his “Dissertation on the functions of the nervous system”, which was published originally in Latin and translated into English by Thomas Laycock on behalf of the Sydenham Society in 1851.2 He emphasises that he is abandoning the Cartesian method of philosophising and taking up the excellent Newtonian inductive method:

      “Newton designated the mysterious cause of physical attraction by the term of vis attractiva, observed and arranged its effects, and discovered the laws of motion; and thus it is …