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J Hist Neurosci. 2010 Jan 15;19(1):1-14. doi: 10.1080/09647040802601605.

The triune brain in antiquity: Plato, Aristotle, Erasistratus.

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Vision Sciences, Aston University, Birmingham, UK.


Tripartite neuropsychologies have featured through two and half millennia of Western thought. They received a modern airing in Paul MacLean's well-known text The Triune Brain. This paper examines the origin of these triune psychophysiologies. It is argued that the first such psychophysiology was developed in the fifth century BCE in the Republic and its Pythagorean sequel, the Timaeus. Aristotle, Plato's pupil and colleague, developed a somewhat similar theory, though this time based on his exhaustive biological researches. Finally, a generation later, Herophilus and Erasistratus at the Alexandrian Museum put together a more anatomically informed tripartite theory that, somewhat modified by Galen in the second century AD, remained the prevailing orthodoxy for nearly fifteen hundred years until it was overturned by the great figures of the Renaissance. Nonetheless, as already mentioned, the notion that human neuropsychology is somehow best thought of as having a tripartite structure has remained remarkably resilient and has reappeared time and again in modern and early modern times. This paper investigates its origins and suggests that it is perhaps now time to move on.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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