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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also iatromechanics), a school of medicine in the 16th through 18th centuries that viewed all functioning of the human body—whether healthy or ill—in the light of the laws of physics (mechanics). For example, the Roman physician G. Baglivi (1668–1707), a prominent iatrophysicist, taught that the arm acts like a lever and that the chest is similar to a blacksmith’s bellows, the heart to a pump, and the glands to sieves.

Iatrophysicists enriched medicine with much reliable information regarding various bodily functions; Sanctorius was among those who devised instruments to measure those functions. The ideas central to iatrophysics were elaborated by G. A. Borelli and by the founders of the sciences of anatomy (A. Vesalius) and physiology (W. Harvey). In his treatise A Description of the Human Body (1648), R. Descartes compared the life of the body to the operation of such mechanical devices as clocks. Bearing witness to the importance of iatrophysics, B. Ramazzini stated in 1700, “In our century we may say that all medicine has been reduced to mechanics.”

At a certain stage in the development of medical knowledge, iatrophysics played a positive role because it attempted to place medicine on a scientific foundation. The one-sidedness of iatrophysics became evident, however, toward the end of the 18th century, as chemistry, biology, and the other natural sciences developed; iatrophysics thus lost its former dominating influence.


Meier-Steineg, T., and K. Sudhoff. Istoriia meditsiny. Moscow, 1925. (Translated from German.)
Garrison, F. H. An Introduction to the History of Medicine. Philadelphia-London, 1929.
Bariety, M., and C. Coury. Histoire de la médecine. [Paris, 1963.]
Mette, A., and J. Winter, eds. Geschichte der Medizin: Einführung in ihre Grundzüge. Berlin, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.