Webinar: Going Beyond Weight-Watchers: Santorio and the Role of Medicine in the Quantification of Nature

Andrew Ruis Discussion

The following webinar may be of interest to some H-Nutrition members.

Going Beyond Weight-Watchers: Santorio and the Role of Medicine in the Quantification of Nature

Fabrizio Bigotti & Jonathan Barry

22 September 2022 – 5:00 PM (CEST)

Until recently, the name of Santorio Santori (Sanctorius, 1561-1636) was linked to the practice of self-experimentation and weight-watching. Yet the Venetian physician went well beyond that, and can rightly be considered the founding father of evidence-based medicine.

In this lecture we will be exploring the background of his inventions and scientific instruments, including early precision medical devices (pulsimeters, hygrometers, thermometers, anemometers) how they worked and what impact they had on the subsequent generations of physicians and natural philosophers.

Santorio was one of the pioneers of modern experimentation as he experimented daily on himself and other subjects for over twenty five years. Seeking certainty, he devised and constructed new instruments, such as the ‘weighing chair’ (statera medica), the hygrometer, the first graded thermometer, and the ‘pulsilogium’ (an early pulsimeter).

Through these instruments, he managed to assess each of the many parameters involved in the complex calculation of the perspiratio insensibilis (insensible perspiration of the body). Relying on his quantitative experiences, Santorio envisaged the body as a clockwork and explored its main functions by means of mathematical parameters (numero, pondere et mensura) depending in turn on his theory of particles and corpuscles.

By highlighting the importance of these theories and instruments, we shall look at the context of Santorio’s life and works as well as the impact of his legacy on the history of medicine and natural philosophy.

To register, visit https://csmbr.fondazionecomel.org/events/online-lectures/going-beyond-weight-watchers/.

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Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I missed Jonathan Barry's part due to an interview, but Fabrizio Bigotti's talk was truly fascinating to this modernist, who is used to describing "modern medicine" since the late 18th century as fixated on quantification and increasingly reductive. He described Santorio Santori's 4 instruments: the famous weighing chair but also a thermometer, hygrometer, and a pulsilogium. He was trying to quantify physiological phenomena, determine the range of normal, and at what "latitude" disease began. Santorio wrote to Galileo in 1615 that he had tested almost 10,000 individuals! This attempt to make visible insensible phenomena differentiated him from Galenic physicians, who often relied upon their patients' experiences of their symptoms and didn't always require visual contact much less a physical exam. Santorio defined health as constancy in the face of change in the environment (i.e. homeostasis) and wanted to catch disease before it became sensible to the sufferer. This is what he called "medical mathematics." It could also be used to direct treatment: e.g. changing the temperature of the sick room to support or change the patient's body temperature.