History of neuroscience

Neurophilosophy

Category archives for History of neuroscience

(AP Photo/Greek Culture Ministry, HO) This skeleton, exacavated recently in the town of Veria, some 75km west of Thessalonika, provides evidence that the ancient Greeks performed sophisticated neurosurgery. The remains, dated to the 3rd century A.D., belong to a woman aged around 25, who appears to have died as a result of a failed craniotomy…

The Lobotomist is online

The Lobotomist, a PBS documentary about Walter Freeman which I mentioned recently, is now available online as a series of short clips that require either QuickTime or Windows Media Player for viewing. The program charts how the lobotomy came to be regarded as a cure for most types of mental illness, how Freeman “refined” the…

Film footage of the ice pick lobotomy

A forthcoming PBS documentary called The Lobotomist examines the career of psychiatrist Walter J. Freeman, who performed nearly 3,000 “ice pick” lobotomies during the late 1930s and 1940s. The hour-long program, which is partly based on Jack El-Hai’s book of the same name, contains old footage of Freeman performing the procedure, and features an interview…

The brain’s Venetian bridge

I returned to UCL today, after spending the first week of the new term writing my second piece of coursework for the M.Sc., a 2,000-word essay about AMPA receptor recomposition in synaptic plasticity, which I’ll post on here soon. The third block began today with a lecture on nociception (pain), and a brain dissection. It…

Alois Alzheimer’s first case

On November 4th, 1906, during a lecture at the 37th Conference of South-West German Psychiatrists in Tubingen, the German neuropathologist and psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer (1864-1915, right) described “eine eigenartige Erkrankung der Hirnrinde” (a peculiar disease of the cerebral cortex). In the lecture, he dicussed “the case of a patient who was kept under close observation…

The birth of Frankenstein

Giovanni Aldini’s electrical experiments on executed criminals in Bologna, from Essai theorique et experimental sur le galvanisme, published in 1804. (Image from the Rare Book and Manuscript Collections at Cornell University Library.) The experiments of Italian physicist Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834) provided Mary Shelley with some of the inspiration for her classic gothic novel Frankenstein. Aldini…

St. Vitus’s Dance

After writing this recent post about Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s epilepsy, I decided it was time I re-read one of the great author’s novels, and chose The Idiot, because it contains Dostoyevsky’s most vivid descriptions of the epileptic aura. (It is widely believed that Dostoyevsky based the protagonist, Prince Myshkin, on himself.) I’m reading a Penguin Classics…

John Banister: Skeleton, brain, nerves

Skeleton, brain, nerves, from John Banister’s Anatomical Tables, c. 1580. From the Anatomy Acts Exhibition website (via Morbid Anatomy). 

The rise & fall of the prefrontal lobotomy

LOBOTOMY (from the Greek lobos, meaning lobes of the brain, and tomos, meaning cut) is a psychosurgical procedure in which the connections the prefrontal cortex and underlying structures are severed, or the frontal cortical tissue is destroyed, the theory being that this leads to the uncoupling of the brain’s emotional centres and the seat of…

Old brains, new ideas

The French anatomist, anthropologist, and surgeon Pierre Paul Broca (1824-1880) is best remembered for his descriptions of two patients who had lost the ability to speak after sustaining damage to the left frontal lobe of the brain. Broca’s observations of these patients, and the conclusions he reached after his post-mortem examinations, would lead to major…