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White Blood and Red Milk. Analogical Reasoning in Medical Practice and Experimental Physiology (1560–1730)

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Chapter Summary

In early modern physiological thinking, analogies between different parts of the body played an essential role in understanding the hidden workings inside the living body. One very old and widely used example of this style of reasoning is the analogy between blood and milk. In particular their use of the metaphors of 'white blood' and 'red milk' makes clear that the analogy reflected far more than sensory evidence. This chapter investigates this analogy in two ways: first, by describing how the analogy was embodied in medical practices for dealing with women's generative capacities. Second, historicisation of the analogy serves as a guide to understanding changing conceptions of blood and milk formation within the emerging fields of experimental physiology. Within a hydromechanical theory of nutrition, blood came to be more explicitly equated with 'red milk', while 'milk' was set in a new relation to 'white chyle'.

Keywords:analogical reasoning; experimental physiology; lactation in women; medical practice; red milk; white blood; white chyle



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