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Hardcover | Out of Print | 256 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 32 b&w illus. | September 2010 | ISBN: 9780262014489
Paperback | $19.95 Trade | £14.95 | 256 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 32 b&w illus. | September 2012 | ISBN: 9780262518192
eBook | $13.95 Trade | September 2012 | ISBN: 9780262290388
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From Enlightenment to Neuroscience
Translated by Laurence Garey


Although Hermann von Helmholtz was one of most remarkable figures of nineteenth-century science, he is little known outside his native Germany. Helmholtz (1821–1894) made significant contributions to the study of vision and perception and was also influential in the painting, music, and literature of the time; one of his major works analyzed tone in music. This book, the first in English to describe Helmholtz's life and work in detail, describes his scientific studies, analyzes them in the context of the science and philosophy of the period—in particular the German Naturphilosophie—and gauges his influence on today's neuroscience.

Helmholtz, trained by Johannes Müller, one of the best physiologists of his time, used a resolutely materialistic and empirical scientific method in his research. His work, eclipsed at the beginning of the twentieth century by new ideas in neurophysiology, has recently been rediscovered. We can now recognize in Helmholtz's methods—which were based on his belief in the interconnectedness of physiology and psychology—the origins of neuroscience.

About the Author

Michel Meulders is Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience and Honorary Prorector of the Catholic University of Louvain, where he also was Dean of the Medical School from 1974 to 1979.


“Hermann von Helmholtz was a towering figure in nineteenth-century physiology, psychology, physics, and philosophy, and the founder of the modern study of vision and audition. Michel Meulders' superb scientific biography situates Helmholtz in the science and philosophy of his time and demonstrates why he is still a living force today.”
Charles Gross, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Princeton University
“This fascinating book exquisitely recreates the long forgotten history of Helmholtz's prodigious insights and methodologies that now constitute basic core components in modern neuroscience. Going beyond the physics, engineering, and natural sciences of the time, Helmholtz's strict mathematical reductionism served as the intellectual backdrop for much of his biological insights into nerve conduction, muscle contraction, vision, hearing, and even music. This is a wonderful book offering rare insights into the history of our field.”
Rodolfo R. Llinás, Professor and Chairman, Department of Physiology and Neuroscience, New York University Medical School