William Harvey, Exercitationes de generatione animalium. Quibus accedunt quaedam de partu: de membranis ac humoribis uteri: et de conceptione, Amstelodami: Lud. Elzevir 1651, frontispiece.

Max Planck Research Group (Premodern Sciences)

Experience in the Premodern Sciences of Soul & Body ca. 800–1650

Research Group Leader Katja Krause

T +49 30 22667 186

Between ca. 800 and 1650, the Aristotelian sciences of soul and body and Galenic-Avicennian medicine spread from the Islamic World to Europe, on to the Americas, and to East Asia. Most histories suggest that the empirical method, encapsulated in the terms “experiment” and “observation,” began later, in the early modern period. The Max Planck Research Group “Experience in the Premodern Sciences of Soul and Body” reconsiders the conventional assumption that experience played a minimal role in premodern natural knowledge-making by studying experience in the sciences concerned with plant, animal, and human life. Our objective is to reveal the ideals and practices associated with premodern experience, and the material artifacts, cultural conditions, and circulation processes that informed and transformed those ideals and practices.

We ask how experience factors into the rich epistemological debates of the historical actors in the period we study. What was the epistemic role assigned to experience in the Aristotelian life sciences and Galenic-Avicennian medicine that allowed premodern scientists to rely on it as a scientific method? To what extent did the uses of experience in these different life sciences converge with or diverge from local knowledge traditions, and why? What was the epistemic foundation of experience: the mind or the world? How did these foundations shift or vanish with changing disciplinary ideals (e.g., from natural philosophies to natural histories), the rise of skepticism, unreliable sources, humanism, and rival local epistemologies?


Themes in Focus


Epistemic Qualities of Experience

Project_RG_Krause_Theme 2_Meister_des_al-Mubashshir-Manuskripts

Premodern Experience as a Network


Premodern Experience in Conversation

with the Present

News & Press

Research Group Leader Katja Krause joins editorial committee of Revista Española de Filosofía Medieval


Katja Krause in Politik & Kommunikation on the relationship between politics and science


RG Premodern Sciences seeks Research Scholar (deadline August 31, 2021)



Media & Features


Hortus Indicus Malabaricus: the Eurasian Life of a Seventeenth-Century European Botanical Classic



RGKrause God the Geometer

God as Architect/Builder/Geometer/Craftsman, frontispiece of a Bible moralisée, illumination on parchment, c. 1220-30. Source: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

“The Virtual-Classroom Sourcebook: A Global History of Experience”

This virtual publication will offer students in the history of philosophy, science, and medicine a geographically wide-ranging selection of primary sources on experience in the premodern sciences of soul and body. Scholars around the world are invited to contribute their favorite source text on experience and complement it with an English translation and a short introductory essay. For further information, please contact Anina Woischnig.


Hannah C. Erlwein hosts a biweekly podcast on classical Islamic theology (kalām). Kalamopod covers topics discussed by kalām scholars and asks how the science of kalām came about, the types of arguments and methods it used, the aims and concerns of its practitioners, and the defenses they offered to their science’s detractors.