On John Bulwer

Green, Thomas R. and Louis G. Tassinary 2002. The Mechanization of Emotional Expression in John Bulwer's "Pathomyotomia" (1649). The American Journal of Psychology 115(2): 275-299.

John Bulwer's Pathomyotomia of 1649 appears to be the first substantial English-language work on the muscular basis of emotional expressions. Although Bulwer's impact on modern investigators has been indirect at best, it is clear that he confronted many of the issues concerning the nature of the emotions and their relationship to facial movements, although his solutions to these problems clearly reflect the theories and methods of his time. (Green & Tassinary 2002: 275)
Useful piece of information. I would have considered Charles Bell the first to take note of facial muscles in relation with emotional expressions.
A strange Essay Indeed, that dares to trace
All the rare Springs and Wards that move a face
To make Anatomy by Muscle wind
The swiftest motions of the minged mind
Natures high piece of Clockworke this You call
Reason and Spring winds up, the Muscles all
Like wheels move this or that way, swift or slow,
As the Affection's Weight doth make them go
- From a laudatory poem in Pathomyotomia (Bulwer, 1949, pp. xv-xvi)
Hmm. "The swiftest motions" sound like microexpressions and "The Affection's Weight" like the expression of emotion.
Whereas in his first two works he explored the uses of hand and finger gestures, in Pathomyotomia Bulwer addressed the expressive movements of the head and face, making a detailed analysis of the muscular basis of different emotional expressions. The unusual title was an invention of his own, referring to the Greek pathos (passion, emotion, experience) and myologus (muscle). The stated goal of the work was to present a new and more intuitive system for naming the muscles of the face, one in which muscles would be named after the passions they were used to express. The idea clearly foreshadowed the later work of French anatomist and electrophysiologist Guillaume-Benjamine Duchenne, who presented just such a terminology in his Méchanisme de la Physiognomie Humaine (Duchenne, 1862/1990). (Green & Tassinary 2002: 276)
I do enjoy invented words.
Of all the pre-twentieth-century works devoted primarily to the expression of emotion, only three receive much attention from modern psychologists. These are Sir Charles Bell's Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in Paintings (1806/1984), Duchenne's Méchanisme (1862/1990), and Charles Darwin's influential The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872/1955), parts of which were inspired by the works of Bell and Duchenne. (Green & Tassinary 2002: 276)
Thus far I've managed to read only one of these (Darwin's Expressions).
In some respects, at least, Bulwer was more in sympathy with modern theorists and researchers than with many of his contemporaries and immediate predecessors. For example, in contrast to many pre-twentieth-century treatises on physiognomy, Pathomyotmia was concerned almost exclusively with the study of dynamic factial actions, as opposed to permanent structural aspects of the face. This approach is hardly surprising given Bulwer's background in gesture and kinesics. (Green & Tassinary 2002: 277)
This is important, as most physiognomies deal with static stuff, stereotypically with the structure of the skull. Yet I object to the use of the word "kinesics" here, as the word didn't appear until mid 20-th century and in my mind does not denote all body motion communication but Birdwhistell's study specifically.
Despite Bulwer's painstaking efforts to provide a thorough anatomic and psychophysical grounding for his classification of expressions, he operated under a fundamentally different set of assumptions regarding mind and body than we do today (or, for that matter, than did Darwin and Spencer). His Pathomyotomia may have some distinctly modern facets, but it is not a modern work, and this is part of its value to the modern investigator. It demonstrates that the importance of certain issues tends to transcend the particular theoretical systems that dominate in any given era. (Green & Tassinary 2002: 277)
This is why I am taken by acrhaism - some matters are not dependent on current theory and method but stand for universal interest.
The following eifht themes are among the most important and will recur often in our analysis: Why and how do emotions or passions arise, and what is the role of the body in this process? If the material seat of the mind is the brain, how does the brain transform the mind's continuous appraisal of the world into bodily events such as emotions and expressions? Why does the face seem to move in particular ways in apparent synchrony with different feelings or states of mind? What is the function or purpose of emotional or other forms of expression? Why do some movements, especially expressive movements, seem to occur involuntarily, and should they be regarded as instinctive? What are the immediate, proximal causes of the movements of the face? Which facial muscles seem to be associated with particular emotions or mental states? And finally, what causes or controls the particular patterning of facial movements for a complex expression such as laughter? (Green & Tassinary 2002: 278)
Interesting questions indeed, although there are many possible answer to each outlined in numerous modern works which I have yet to consult.
Bulwer saw emotions or passions as a process divided into several distinct stages, somewhat analogous to the information processing and appraisal theories of today. The first stage involves the conveyance of sensory information about the world to the brain. here, the appetite, a reflexlike appraiser of what is harmful or beneficial, makes a rapid judgment of the sense data in terms of its desirabilitu, and a series of motions is triggered throughout the mind and body. Some of these motions involve the presentation of the sense data to the soul, where an image or idea is experienced in consciousness; other motions reverberate throughout the body, causing adjustments in vital (life-supporting) physiological systems. The entire process was seen as highly automated; "whence the sense offering what is desired, the motions are done no otherwise than as you see in machines, the pullies loos'd, one thrusting forward the other, but in machines without the mutation of qualities" (pp. 17-18). (Green & Tassinary 2002: 178-179)
This should be compared to the biosemiotic accounts available today.
Bulwer did not believe that nervous activity consisted of spirits issuing through the nerves from one part of the body to another; rather, the nervous system was conceived as perpetually full of flowing spirits, which somehow conducted information to and from the brain by a means faster than the movement of fluids. His favorite metaphor is a musical one. Just as striking the string of an instrument produce notes and chords of precise intervals on a scale, so does the soul's motive faculty cause the mobile spirits to fly to their appointed organs. Exactly how this happens is not specific, but one can speculate that Bulwer conceived of every innervated part of the body having its own designated chord, such that the brain caused spirits to vibrate at the correct combination of frequencies needed to activate the appropriate part of the body. (Green & Tassinary 2002: 280)
I think a whole lot can be written about musical metaphors in science. Especially the case of von Uexküll's tones and counterpoints comes to mind.
As the tongue speaketh to the ear, so the gesture speaketh to the eye.
- from Francis Bacon's Advancement of Learning (1605/1869) (as cited in Cleary, 1974, p. xiii).
Neat. This sounds just as epic as the famous quotes from Sapir and Freud.
  • Bulwer, J. 1644. Chirologia: or, the natural language of the hand, and Chironomia: or, the art of manual rhetoric. London: T. Harper.
  • Bulwer, J. 1648. Philocophus: Or the deaf and dumb man's friend. London: Humphrey Moseley.
  • Bulwer, J. 1649. Pathomyotomia: Or a dissection of the significative muscles of the affections of the mind. London: Humphrey Moseley.
  • Bulwer, J. 1650. Anthropometamorphosis: Man transform'd; or the artificial changeling. London: J. Hardesty.
  • Cleary, J. 1959. John Bulwer: Renaissance communicationist. Quarterly Journal of Speech 45: 391-398.
  • Harre, R. 1986. The social construction of emotions. New York: Basil Blackwell.
  • Minsky, M. 1986. The society of mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Smith, Justin E. H. 2010. ‘A Corporall Philosophy’: Language and ‘Body-Making’ in the Work of John Bulwer (1606–1656). In: Wolfe, Charles T. and Ofer Gal (eds.), The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge: Embodied Empiricism in Early Modern Science. Dordrecht: Springer, 169-183.

But how does a gesturology amount to the culmination of something left incomplete in Bacon’s own work? (Smith 2010: 171)
Hmm. What Bulwer calls Chirologia is here named gesturology (a term I'm meeting for the first time).
Bulwer often invokes the metonymy of ‘the hand’ to describe body language in general. (Smith 2010: 171)
Indeed he does.
“...it does not appear that Bulwer’s work had much impact on the main body of language projectors” (Lewis 2007, 46) (Smith 2010: 171)
The previous author also contended that Darwin and others dismissed Bulwer's work. Yet it is clear that Bulwer's body of work comprises a universe of interest for the nonverbalist.
Most early modern theories of a primordial Adamic language held that it was not spoken language as such that compromised true meanings in favour of their mere approximation in the sounds that humans agree by convention will stand in for them. But Bulwer appears to want to argue that speaking, whether pre- or post-lapsarian, corrupts meanings precisely because sounds can only ever be conventional. For this reason, the true primordial embodiment of meaning is only to be found in the body itself, which is to say in gesture. (Smith 2010: 172)
define:lapsarian - "The Fall of Man or simply the Fall refers in Christian doctrine to the transition of the first humans from a state of innocent obedience..."
I tend to agree with Bulwer here - if there is universal meaning then it is embodied in human anatomy and physiology. This is a blunt statement, but a more elaborate formulation can be construed later.
Even what is sometimes called 'giving the finger' is qualified by Bulwer as 'naturall': "The putting forth of the middle-Finger, the rest drawn into a First on each side, which is then called... vulgarly Higa, in the ancient tongue, pugner ..., is a naturall expression of scorne and contempt. Hence also Martial calls this Finger, Digitum impudicum." Bulwer's insight here seems to be that the middle finger functions as a sort of 'natural symbol' in virtue of certain anatomical correspondences that are transparent to any observer. (Smith 2010: 173)
Now that is interesting! Also, the word "impudence" suddenly makes perfect sense.
He complains of all of these ‘Nations’, the Virginians, the Englishwomen, the Italians, and the Moors alike, “what needlesse paine they put themselves unto to maintaine their cruell bravery! Nay, which is yet stranger, they seeme to love this unnaturall and bloudy Gallantry so well, that they hate their own flesh and bloud, whereof they freely sacrifice to their fantasticall imaginations.” (Smith 2010: 177-178)
Some people like to quote Shakespeare. I think today's youth would do well to learn these words and expound them on people wearing tattoos. It would make a sight to behold.
It is hard to imagine that Bulwer might have thought that any proposition whatsoever could be expressed by natural gesture. Did he really think that one could debate, say, transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation without resorting to conventional signs? Probably not, but he also probably does not think that such doctrinal disputes, or adherence to doctrine, is necessary for the possession of natural wisdom. In this connection, Bulwer again seems to be in agreement with ancient Stoic, and perhaps Cynic, doctrine, according to which animals are the supreme embodiment of reason. The language of the hand, which is to say gesture, is for Bulwer just the language of animals, which, while lacking hands strictly speaking, nonetheless comport themselves in such a way that their internal states can be read directly off of their bodies. (Smith 2010: 181)
Something for the zoosemiotician.

Wollock, Jeffrey 2012. Psychological Theory of John Bulwer. In: Rieber, Robert W. (ed.), Encyclopedia of the History of Psychological Theories. Dordrecht: Springer, 839-856.

John Bulwer (1606–1656) was a London physician best known for his writings on gesture, the semiotics of the body, and speech for the deaf. However, his psychological theory has received almost no attention from historians, and the fact that Bulwer was the most important British contributor to the psychology of motor action, physical expression, and nonverbal communication in the period between William Harvey (ca. 1627) and Thomas Willis (1664) has gone largely unrecognized. (Wollock 2012: 839)
Ha! So the dates of his birth and death are indeed known. Also, I should look into the psychology of motor action; and check out the two physicians/doctors mentioned here.
Man’s corrupt ingenuity had invented myriad modes of disfiguring what William Blake would later term “the human form divine,” by way of dress, cosmetics, and mutilation. Like the other works this one is about the semiotics of the human body. It has been frequently described as a work about “monsters,” but this extends the word monster in a way that Bulwer could not have intended. (Wollock 2012: 841)
There have been many semiotics of the human body, so this is just one possible meaning of the term.
Medical signs are both nonverbal and natural. An observable physical sign points to an underlying condition not by custom but by natural connection. In
Peirce’s terms, it is an index. In Galenic medicine, “disordered motions” or “injured actions” are recognized as a distinct class of symptoms (Wollock 1997:109–112). However, a physician must be able to recognize not only disease but also health and all degrees in between. Thus, just as disordered motion is a class of symptom, so all motions of the body provide clues as to what Bulwer calls (borrowing a phrase from King James I’s Basilikon Doron, 1599, also quoted by Bacon) “the present humour and state of the minde and will.” This is virtually equivalent to the study of expression as suggested by Bacon, who himself reviewed the natural signs of fear, grief and pain, joy, anger, light displeasure, shame, pity, wonder, laughing, and lust in his Sylva Sylvarum (published posthumously in 1627), “Experiments in consort touching the impressions which the passions of the mind make upon the body” (Cent. VIII, experiments 713–722). (Wollock 2012: 842)
Wollock makes a recourse to Augustine's and Peirce's definitions of the sign and then follows up with bodily signs (nonverbal and natural).
But it is also possible to construct artificial nonverbal signs, which Bacon calls “real characters.” These are as arbitrary as alphabetical symbols, and may be adopted by convention. Being abstract, and capable of systematization, they are more rational than the “primitive” hieroglyph and gesture, and thus an improvement and advancement.
Significantly, Bulwer scarcely alludes to the real character, except in one place where he refers to the gestures of the hand as the “universall character of Reason” (1644a:3), and another where he describes the correspondence between particular speech sounds (from whatever language) and the motions of the mouth necessary to produce them, as “very neere to the nature of an universall character” (1648:156, cf. 38–41). This lack of interest in the artificial real character can be explained by the fact that Bulwer, as a physician, privileged the natural over the artificial. This also had ethical implications – the natural is morally superior to the arbitrary, misleading character of verbal language – an outlook he shared with Bacon (Wollock 2002:230–240). The real character, though intended to provide an accurate reflection of the structure of reality and all its interrelationships, was still an artificial construct; Bulwer preferred a ready-made, universal mode of expression emanating straight from the roots of human nature and the structure of the human body (cf. Wollock, forthcoming). (Wollock 2012: 842-843)
These are basically nonverbalist assumptions.
Gesture is impossible without the ability of the body to move itself. Pathomyotomia (1649) begins by affirming that self-motion is the highest perfection of the animate creature, the Creator’s last and noblest end in the fabric of the body; that it belongs to the very substance of the animal; and that the chiefest and nearest instruments of animate motion are the muscles. (Wollock 2012: 843)
Self-motion (#self!) may be useful for discussing automaticity and programmes of behavior.
. . . what is custome? if I should aske, you would spend above two days in deliberation what you were to say, & it would fall out well if you could then come off with credit (Exerc. 339, 1620:1017–1018), Custome is nothing else but a habit, but a habit is not the cause of motions but a quality added to the motion [the qualities of promptness, order, and timing, according to Scaliger’s own text], because it so adheres to the members, that [it]. . . brings forth its actions as they are to be done without any inquisition. Custome, indeed, and the aptitude of parts doe advance and helpe forwards the doing or perfecting of some motions. (Bulwer 1649: 36)
As habit is a common word in Peirce's semiotics and Bourdieu's theory and many other discourses elsewhere, this definition may prove useful.
Now, everything that we call muscle, Aristotle referred to as a kind of flesh. If flesh is the organ of touch and movement is a common sensible perceptible through touch, then one feels a proportionate sense of tactile movement in this flesh when either pushing or resisting an object possessing weight. Since the body itself, and every part of it, possesses weight, the weight of one’s own body can be sensed in every local motion, whether of the whole body (holon athróon) or any part (kata méros). This is the same phenomenon that Bastian in the nineteenth century called kinesthesia and Sherrington in the twentieth, proprioception. (Wollock 2012: 845)
From Thure von Uexküll I learned about the origin of proprioception. Until now I had no idea where kinesthesia came from. No doubt this is an interesting avenue to take in future readings.
Bulwer was, in the style of his day, both a scientific investigator and a philosopher. The larger issues he grappled with continue to confront modern researchers, who are only now beginning to recognize him as a pioneer in their field. We realize that he was in fact the first to take a scientific approach, consciously in the spirit of Francis Bacon, to many psychophysical issues of human communication that are of great interest today, whereas his philosophical insights are drawn from the whole history of the subject, emanating particularly from Aristotle and Galen (whose psychological acumen is today recognized as timeless) and their late renaissance interpreters like Scaliger (1620 [1537]) and Marinelli (1615). If Bulwer was ignored for so long, we can say in hindsight that this is not because he is unimportant, but because it has required a long historical perspective to understand that he was “ahead of his time.” (Wollock 2012: 857)
Indeed I can jot Bulwer down as a proto-nonverbalist.
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  • Butterworth, G. (1995). An ecological perspective on the origins of self. In J. Bermudez, A. Marcel & N. Eilan (Eds.), The body and the self (pp. 87–105). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Gibson, J. J. (1966). The theory of information pickup (pp. 266–286). In The senses considered as perceptual systems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
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  • Kempf, E. J. (1918). The autonomic functions and the personality. New York/Washington: Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing Co.
  • Royce, J. (May 1895). Preliminary report on imitation. Psychological Review, 2(3), 217–235.
  • Sherrington, C. S. (1907). On the proprioceptive system especially in its reflex aspect. Brain, 29(Part 4), 467–485.


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