Harvey’s bloody motion: ‘the ins and outs of being creative’

Laszlo Kosolosky

Centre for logic and philosophy of science, Ghent University, Belgium

In this paper, we intend to bridge the disciplines of history and philosophy of science by showing how the discovery of the circulation of the blood by William Harvey (1578-1657) sheds new light on existing conceptualizations of discovery and creativity in science. In particular, the example illustrates where both the enlightenment and the romantic view on creativity go astray. Standard theoretically conceived objections against both models are (1) that they are too individualistic, (2) that they endorse a Whiggish view on history of science, (3) that they misrepresent what assigning credit for a discovery entails, and (4) that they underestimate the degree of innovation in science (Nickles, 1994). By investigating how William Harvey came to his discovery along the 4 routes spelled out below, we surpass these traditional views on discovery in (philosophy of) science and give firmer historical ground to the objections raised above: First off, Harvey is a child of his time as his reasoning is influenced by, among others, Galen (131-207/216), Aristotle (384-322), Fabricius (1537-1619) and Colombo (1516-1559). Second, we indicate how analogies play a considerable role in Harvey’s reasoning aside from their usual argumentative value (Provijn, in print; Pera, 1987). Third, Harvey’s ‘quantitative argument’ harbors an inherent struggle and conceals a new ‘personal’ take on experiments, which calls for a medically motivated ‘embodied’ account of empiricism (Wolfe, 2010). Fourth, vivisection as a research method poses problems from a medical point of view, restricting us to think of the method as, what we call, a ‘broadening constraint’. By combining these insights, the paper spells out the impact of Harvey’s discovery for both existing views on creativity in science, as well as for Harvey’s historical position. While struggling between ‘the old and the new’, he is to be located at the interface between experimentalism and aristotelianism (route 1), embodied empiricism and experimentalist empiricism (route 3) and as both natural philosopher and physician (route 4). Moreover, this analysis allows us (1) to redress the merits and pitfalls of pursuing a logic of discovery (Whitt, 1992) and (2) to align possible constraints on theory promise, or address the broader question whether a theory is promising and worthy of pursuit in light of this particular example (Seselja, Kosolosky & Strasser, 2013).