In 1664 Thomas Willis published a text on the brain and nerves that was to be enormously influential for the next two centuries, and continues to carry great weight even today. The "Cerebri Anatome", first published in 1664, gave “the most complete and accurate account of the nervous system which had hitherto appeared”, was the first to use the term “neurology” and contained the first descriptions of the “Circle of Willis”, considered one of Willis’s finest achievements. Willis went onto publish seven books during his lifetime and today early printed editions of Willis's work still exist in relatively large numbers.
On this day, Wednesday 27 January 2021, Thomas Willis was born exactly 400 years ago. To mark this historic day, Professor Zoltán Molnár invites Willis specialist Professor Alastair Compston FRS, Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Cambridge, to take us on a journey through his extraordinary collection of the great works of Thomas Willis, and provide his unparalleled insights into the medical contributions of Willis ahead of the publication of Compston's new bio-bibliography of Thomas Willis this coming summer.
In his interview with Professor Molnár, Professor Compston explains that there was a rationale behind the sequence in which Thomas Willis published his works. As stated in Cerebri Anatome (1664), Willis had planned a series of publications on the nervous system from the start. De Anima Brutorum (1672) was to be the highlight of this series and scholars today still regard it as the crown of his achievements. The book brings together Willis's concept of fermentation, interest in the nervous system, concept of voluntary and involuntary movement, and his ideas on the corporeal and rational souls of humans.
Watch this new video interview to find out more about Willis's systematic approach to knowledge and coherence in the contributions to medicine in his writings, why Willis became interested in the nervous system and his lasting contributions to knowledge, and what makes Willis's books valuable intellectually, aesthetically, commercially and still worth reading today.