Julien de La Mettrie (1709–1751) was born on December 25 in Brittany. His father intended him to become a priest until a local doctor pointed out that a mediocre physician would be bet- ter paid than a good priest. Upon receiving his medical degree, La Mettr ie soon distinguished himself in the medical community by writing articles on such topics as venereal disease, vertigo, and smallpox. He was widely resented because of professional jealousy, his tendency to satirize the medical profession, and his quick temper. In 1742 he obtained a commission as physician to a regiment serving in the war between France and Austria. During a military campaign, La Mettrie contracted a violent fever; while convalescing, he began to ponder the relationship between the mind and the body.
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Upon recovery from his illness, La Mettrie wrote The Natural History of the Soul (1745), which stressed that the mind is much more intimately related to the body than Descartes had assumed. If the mind is completely separate from the body and influences the body only when it chooses to do so, how can the effects of such things as wine, coffee, opium, or even a good meal on one’s thoughts be explained? In fact, La Mettrie was among the first modern philosophers to suggest that “you are what you eat.”