Sir Charles BellHis Life, Art, Neurological Concepts, and Controversial Legacy

Sir Charles BellHis Life, Art, Neurological Concepts, and Controversial Legacy

Michael J Aminoff

Print publication date: Sep 2016

ISBN: 9780190614966

Publisher: Oxford University Press


Charles Bell (1774–1842) was a Scottish anatomist–surgeon whose original ideas on the nervous system have been equated with those of William Harvey on the circulation. He suggested that the anterior and posterior nerve roots have different functions, and based on their connectivity he showed that different parts of the brain have different functions. He noted that individual peripheral nerves actually contain nerve fibers with different functions, that nerves conduct only in one direction, that sense organs are specialized to receive only one form of sensory stimulus, and that there is a sixth (muscle) sense. In addition to the facial palsy and its associated features named after him, he provided the first clinical descriptions of several neurological disorders and important insights into referred pain and reciprocal inhibition. Bell helped to change the way art students are taught, described the anatomical basis of facial expressions, initiated the scientific study of the physical expression of emotions, and stimulated the later work of Charles Darwin on facial expressions. His teachings influenced British and European art. Bell was a renowned medical teacher who founded his own medical school, subsequently took over the famous Hunterian school, and eventually helped establish the University of London and the Middlesex Hospital Medical School in London. However, his belief in intelligent design caused him to be left behind by the evolutionist thought that developed in the nineteenth century. He was a brilliant but flawed human being who contributed much to the advance of knowledge.