Welcome to the website of the NWO-funded Vital Matters research project led by Dr. Rina Knoeff. By looking at bodily fluids, minerals, and the nerves, this project investigates how Herman Boerhaave's legacy gave direction to Dutch Enlightenment chemistry and medicine.

For more information, please visit the Vital Matters project and Research Output pages.



Histories of Healthy Ageing

University of Groningen, 21–23 June 2017

As Western populations grow increasingly older, 'healthy ageing' is presented as one of today's greatest medical and societal challenges. However, contrary to what many policy makers want us to believe, the aspiration to live long, healthy and happy lives is not a problem specific to our times. On the contrary successful ageing has a long history.

The Histories of Healthy Ageing (HHA) conference is based on the assumption that 'healthy ageing' has informed the medical agenda since Antiquity. With 'healthy ageing' we refer to ways of thinking about and treating the body not only from a medical perspective, but also taking into account questions of what constitutes a happy and fulfilled life. In particular these latter issues were central to medicine before 1800 and relate to healthy living as much as to questions connected specifically to old age.

For Programme and Registration, please visit historiesofhealthyageing.nl



Healthy Ageing and the Importance of Art

Van Swinderen Huys, 22 June 2017, 18:00


The contemporary quest for healthy ageing or longevity is not only a biomedical challenge but it is also a societal and cultural concern. The opportunities of healthy ageing, of extending our life time with decades in good health, pose questions about the financial and economic implications, but also about the demographic, legal and political implications. Are we as a society ready for an extended human life expectancy? Can we understand or even imagine the mental and emotional effects of a life that spans a 120 years?

In my lecture I will argue that the debate about longevity is above all a debate about what it is to be human and about human dignity. However, there is no consensus as to what terms like ‘human dignity’ and ‘human essence’ actually mean, which will force any debate about longevity into deadlock. I will take this argument a step further by claiming that the opportunities offered by biotechnology in general (be it longevity or genetic modification) make it clear that any discussion on biotechnological innovations that is based on traditional concepts like human dignity and human essence will inevitably become nothing more than a dead end. Contemporary biotechnological practices that involve manipulation of living beings is testing accepted ethical and aesthetic values concerning the human body and nature to such an extent that we need a radical reconsideration of our values.

© 2017 Vital Matters – Dr. Rina Knoeff, University of Groningen