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Homunculus (Latin for "little human", plural: "homunculi"; from the diminutive of homo) is a term used, generally, in various fields of study to refer to any representation of a human being. Historically it referred specifically to the concept of a miniature though fully-formed human body, for example, in the studies of alchemy and preformationism. Currently, in scientific fields, a homunculus may refer to any scale model of the human body that, in some way, illustrates physiological, psychological, or other abstract human characteristics or functions.


[edit] Homunculi in preformationism

Homunculi in sperm as drawn by N. Hartsoecker in 1695

Preformationism, a philosophical theory of heredity, claimed that either the egg or the sperm (exactly which was a contentious issue) contained a complete preformed individual called a homunculus. Development was therefore a matter of enlarging this into a fully formed being.

The term homunculus was later used in the discussion of conception and birth, Nicolas Hartsoeker discovered "animalcules" in the semen of humans and other animals. This was the beginning of spermists' theory, who held the belief that the sperm was in fact a "little man" (homunculus) that was placed inside a woman for growth into a child. This seemed to them to neatly explain many of the mysteries of conception. It was later pointed out that if the sperm was a homunculus, identical in all but size to an adult, then the homunculus may have sperm of its own. This led to a reductio ad absurdum with a chain of homunculi "all the way down". This was not necessarily considered by spermists a fatal objection however, as it neatly explained how it was that "in Adam" all had sinned: the whole of humanity was already contained in his loins. The spermists' theory also failed to explain why children tend to resemble their mothers as well as their fathers, though some spermists believed that the growing homunculus assimilated maternal characteristics from the womb environment in which they grew.[1]

[edit] Homunculi in modern science

The homunculus is commonly used today in scientific disciplines, such as psychology, to describe the distorted scale model of a human drawn or sculpted to reflect the relative space human body parts occupy on the somatosensory cortex (sensory homunculus) and the motor cortex (motor homunculus). The lips, hands, feet and sex organs have more sensory neurons than other parts of the body, so the homunculus has correspondingly large lips, hands, feet, and genitals. Well known in the field of neurology, this is also commonly called "the little man inside the brain." This scientific model is known as the cortical homunculus.

In medical science, the term homunculus is sometimes applied to certain fetus-like ovarian cystic teratomae. These will sometimes contain hair, sebaceous material and in some cases cartilagous or bony structures.[2]

[edit] Homunculus argument

The homunculus argument accounts for a phenomenon in terms of the very phenomenon that it is supposed to explain (Richard Gregory, 1987). Homunculus arguments are always fallacious. In the psychology and philosophy of mind 'homunculus arguments' are useful for detecting where theories of mind fail or are incomplete.

Homunculus arguments are common in the theory of vision. Imagine a person watching a movie. They see the images as something separate from themselves, projected on the screen. How is this done? A simple theory might propose that the light from the screen forms an image on the retinae in the eyes and something in the brain looks at these as if they are the screen. The Homunculus Argument shows this is not a full explanation because all that has been done is to place an entire person, or homunculus, behind the eye that gazes at the retinae. A more sophisticated argument might propose that the images on the retinae are transferred to the visual cortex where it is scanned. Again this cannot be a full explanation because all that has been done is to place a little person in the brain behind the cortex. In the theory of vision the Homunculus Argument invalidates theories that do not explain 'projection', the experience that the viewing point is separate from the things that are seen (adapted from Gregory, 1987; 1990).

How a homunculus theory of mind argument might be visualised

"According to the legend, whenever an agent does anything intelligently, their act is preceded and steered by another internal act of considering a regulative proposition appropriate to their practical problem. . . . Must we then say that for the agent's . . . reflections how to act to be intelligent they must first reflect how best to reflect how to act? The endlessness of this implied regress shows that the application of the appropriateness does not entail the occurrence of a process of considering this criterion." Ryle 1949.

Ryle's theory is that intelligent acts cannot be a property of an inner being or mind, if such a thing were to exist.

John Searle's "Chinese room", in which he demonstrates that artificial intelligence can be unconscious, or equivalently that the appearance of intelligence does not imply the existence of intelligence, can be extended to imply that if man is intelligent, the homunculus need not be the seat.

The homunculus argument and the regress argument are often considered to be the same but this is not the case. The homunculus argument says that if there is a need for a 'little man' to complete a theory then the theory is false or incomplete. The regress argument says that an intelligent agent would need to think before it could have a thought.

[edit] Early literary representations

Homunculi can be found in centuries worth of literature.

  • One of the very earliest literary references to the homunculus which also hints of its origination occurs in Thomas Browne's Religio Medici (1643) in which the author states-
I am not of Paracelsus minde that boldly delivers a receipt to make a man without conjunction. ... (Part 1:36)
19th century engraving of Goethe's Faust and Homunculus
  • The alchemical connection also occurs in the German playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's rendition of Faust, Part 2 which has that famed sorcerer's former student, Wagner, create a homunculus, who then carries out extended conversations with Mephistopheles as well as travels with him to the Pharsalian Fields to save Faust.
  • Writing on the purely superficial westernization of Russian intellectuals in his travel journalism Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, Dostoevsky writes: 'There is no soil, we say, and no people, nationality is nothing but a certain system of taxation, the soul is a tabula rasa, a small piece of wax out of which you can readily mould a real man, a world man or a homunculus ' all that must be done is to apply the fruits of European civilisation and read two or three books'

[edit] Contemporary literary representations

  • In the twentieth century Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, has several references to a homunculus, particularly detailed in a chapter dealing with druidic rites performed at a party in the country estate (castle) of a wealthy Rosicrucian. After a series of sensually stimulating occult acts are played out for the small audience, several homunculi appear to be created, but the main character, Casaubon, cannot decide if they are wax or indeed authentic magic.
  • German horror writer Hanns Heinz Ewers used the mandrake method for creating a homunculus as the inspiration for his 1911 novel Alraune, in which a prostitute is impregnated with semen from a hanged murderer to create a woman devoid of morals or conscience. Several cinematic adaptations of Alraune have been made over the years, the most recent in 1952 with Erich von Stroheim. The 1995 film Species also appears to draw some inspiration from this variation on the homunculus legend.
  • Dennis Wheatley's novel The Satanist Hutchinson 1960. As part of the plot a Satanist using Homunculi as part of his Occult ritual to create air breathing creatures. The Homunculi were created and stored in large fluid filled jars from a previous ritual. The ultimate transformation required a 21-year-old virgin to be sacrificed and her blood fed to the Homunculi. The virgin had previously been christened to Satan at birth by her father for occult favours and riches, unknown to herself.
  • In the young-adult fantasy book Rumo by German novelist and cartoonist Walter Moers, Homunculi are hybrid life forms created out of a giant viscous liquid containing various animal cells. They are used as cheap labour.
  • In English novelist Peter Ackroyd's novel The House of Doctor Dee, John Dee, the Elizabethan mathematician, astrologer, philosopher and magus, attempts and succeeds in creating a homunculus.
  • American author David H. Keller, M.D., wrote two pieces featuring homunculi. One was a short story, "A Twentieth-Century Homunculus", published in Amazing Stories in 1930, which describes the creation of homunculi on an industrial scale by a pair of misogynists. In the other, a novel called The Homunculus, published in 1949 by Prime Press of Philadelphia, retired Colonel Horatio Bumble creates such a being.
  • Also examining the misogynistic tendencies of the creators of homunculi, Swedish novelist Sven Delblanc lampoons both his homunculus' creator and the Cold War industrial-military complexes of the Soviet Union and NATO in his novel The Homunculus: A Magic Tale.
  • In American author Mike Mignola's Hellboy and BPRD comic books, a medieval homunculus is discovered by BPRD agents, revived via pyrokinesis, and eventually becomes part of the Bureau's "enhanced talents" team. Named Roger, the homunculus was alchemically created with blood and herbs, stewed in a jar, and then incubated in horse manure. Some years later, Roger is tragically blown apart by a villain and presumed dead.
  • A homunculus called Twigleg is one of the main characters of the 1997 children's novel Dragon Rider by German author Cornelia Funke. This homunculus is created by combining artificial ingredients and a small living creature (probably a small insect or spider). He is also referred to as a "manikin".
  • In Jane R. Goodall's 2004 mystery novel The Walker (Hodder Headline ISBN 0-7336-1897-9), ancient secrets pertaining to the creation of the alchemical homunculus are central to a plot involving murders based on Hogarth's prints and set in "Swinging London". The creation of homunculi, together with the search for the philosopher's stone, was a central aim of alchemy. Implicit in the novel is the uneasy speculation that the original experiment succeeded and this evil being may indeed move through history.
  • In Sean Williams' Books of the Cataclysm one of the central characters is a homunculus containing the consciousnesses of the Mirror Twins Seth & Hadrian Callisto.
  • Micah Nathan's 2005 novel Gods of Aberdeen contains a scene where a mandrake root is pulled from the ground and the protagonist questions if it's being used to create a homunculus.
  • In Doctor Illuminatus (Alchemist's Son Trilogy) by Martin Booth, Pierre de Loudéac persists to create a homunculus and succeeds. Also mentioned in the sequel Soul Stealer. Martin Booth died before the trilogy was completed.
  • In Hugh Paxton's 2006 novel Homunculus (MacMillan New Writing ISBN 978-0230007369), alchemy is harnessed for modern military purposes. Homunculi created from human body parts and powered by moonshine are used as bioweapons in war-torn Sierra Leone.
  • In James P. Blaylock's novel Homunculus, published in 1986, a homunculus is much sought after by several of the book's characters because of its powerful magical abilities.

[edit] Film and pop culture

[edit] Film, television and literature

  • In episode 3 "The Gothowitz Deviation" of the third season of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon refers to Leonard as a homunculus.
  • The homunculus' likely first appearance in film was the six-part 1916 German serial Homunculus.
  • In the classic horror film Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein's old teacher, Dr. Praetorius, shows him his own creations, a series of miniature humanoids kept in specimen jars, including a bishop, a king, a queen, a ballerina, a mermaid, and a devil. These are clearly intended to be homunculi, based on those creatures described by Emil Besetzny's Sphinx, as translated and presented in Franz Hartmann's Life of Paracelsus.
  • In the 2006 book Keeper of the Waters, the second book in the Daughter of Destiny series, an enemy that the main character encounters is a homunculus.
  • In the American film The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974), the homunculus is portrayed as a miniature winged gargoyle creature who is the nemesis of Sinbad.
  • In the 2005 comedy film The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse a homunculus is created in a subplot called "The King's Evil."
  • Glen Phillips created a homunculus in the video for "Everything But You"
  • In the rare cult film Moonchild (1974), there is a homunculus who is a servant to a manager in a mission hotel.[3]
  • The supernatural thriller Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry features a homunculus as a servant of the vampire overlord Ubel Griswold.
  • In the remaining twenty-five episodes of The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, Ray Ray Lee (the main character Juniper's little brother) has his soul living in a homunculus body that looks exactly like him after his original body mutates into a massive creature.
  • In the novel If You're Reading This, It's Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch, the main characters, Cass and Max-Ernest, pursue and eventually locate a homunculus.
  • In the anime and manga Fullmetal Alchemist, the antagonists are Homunculi named after the seven deadly sins, and their creator, whose identity differs between the manga and the first anime adaptation.
  • In the japanese tokusatsu series GoGo Sentai Boukenger, the Questers create a giant Homonculus, by placing three Precious into a special vessel.
  • In Cory Doctorow's Makers (Cory Doctorow novel), the Disney-In-A-Box prototype is staffed and operated by homunculi.[4] First appearance, Part 49.[5]
  • Mr Sin, from the 1977 episode The Talons of Weng-Chiang of the BBC series Doctor Who
  • In the anime series Buso Renkin, Homunculus are a type of alchemy that attack humans.

[edit] Miscellaneous uses of the term "Homunculus"

  • The Homunculus appears occasionally in the folklore of Eastern Europe as a construct made from natural materials such as dirt, roots, insects, feces, and other substances. In these stories the creature is revived through incantation and acts as a vehicle for the astrally projected mind of a sorcerer.
  • Laurie Schneider Adams, in A History of Western Art, makes several references to a practice in the Middle Ages of depicting Christ as a homunculus. She states, "This depiction of Christ as a child-man, partly a reference to his miraculous nature, is a convention of Christian art before 1300". It is speculative, but Romanesque artists, often sculptors, may have been translating the infant Jesus in this way out of respect for his Divine nature, as a metaphor for his Divinity. Similarly, though stylistically very different, Michelangelo depicts David, the giant slayer, as a giant.
  • increasing use in planning/finance circles to describe a plan that is a stripped down, perfect case scenario, that is probably unrealistic[citation needed]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Epigenesis and Preformationism", Oct. 11, 2005.
  2. ^ Yong Ho Lee, Y.H, Kim, S.G., Choi, S.H., Kim, I.S. & Kim, S.H. (2003): Ovarian Mature Cystic Teratoma Containing Homunculus: A Case Report. Journal of Korean Meical Science no 18: pp 905-907 Article as PDF
  3. ^ imdb.com - Moonchild (1974)
  4. ^ Doctorow, Cory (2009). Makers. Tor Press. ISBN 9780765312792. http://craphound.com/makers/. 
  5. ^ tor.com

[edit] References

  • Weiss JR, Burgess JB, Kaplan KJ. Fetiform teratoma (homunculus). Arch Pathol Lab Med 2006;130(10):1552-1556.
  • Watson JD, Berry A. DNA: The Secret of Life. New York, New York: Random House; 2003.
  • Abbott TM, Hermann WJ, Scully RE. Ovarian fetiform teratoma (homunculus) in a 9-year-old girl. Int J Gynecol Pathol 1984;2:392'402.
  • Kuno N, Kadomatsu K, Nakamura M, Miwa-Fukuchi T, Hirabayashi N, Ishizuka T. Mature ovarian cystic teratoma with a highly differentiated homunculus: a case report. Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol 2004;70:40'46.
  • Florescu, Radu (1975). In Search of Frankenstein. Boston: New York Graphic Society. ISBN 0-8212-0614-1. 
  • Gregory, Richard L. (1990). Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing (4th ed. ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02456-1. 
  • Gregory, Richard L. (ed.) (1987). The Oxford Companion to the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866124-X. 
  • Maconius, S. (1980). The Lore of the Homunculus. Red Lion Publications. 
  • Ryle, Gilbert (1984) [1949]. The Concept of Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-73295-9. 
  • Waite, Arthur Edward (ed.) (1976) [1894]. The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Aureolus Philippus Theophrastus Bombast, of Hohenheim, Called Paracelsus the Great (2 vols. ed.). Berkeley: Shambhala. ISBN 0-87773-082-2. 

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