William Porterfield (ca. 1696-1771) and his phantom limb: an overlooked first self-report by a man of medicine

Neurosurgery. 2003 May;52(5):1196-8; discussion 1198-9.


EARLY REPORTS OF phantom limbs by Ambroise Paré and René Descartes were based on second- or third-hand descriptions provided by amputees. William Porterfield (ca. 1696-1771) was a prominent Scottish physician and was possibly the first man of medicine to write about his experiences after having a leg amputated. Porterfield was an authority on vision; he devised the first optometer and examined accommodation after cataract operations. Rather than using the phenomenon of a phantom limb to question the veracity of the senses (as Descartes had done), Porterfield integrated his phantom limb experiences into his general account of sensory function.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • History, 18th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phantom Limb / history*
  • Scotland
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Sensation Disorders / history

Personal name as subject

  • William Porterfield