History of Neuroscience

The History of Neuroscience

The Ancient Egyptians thought the seat of intelligence was in the heart. During the mummification process, they would remove the brain, but leave the heart in the body.

Herodotus (circa.484-425 BC), an ancient Greek historian, said:

“The most perfect practice is to extract as much of the brain as possible with an iron hook, and what the hook cannot reach is mixed with drugs.”

The earliest writings on the brain were found in the 1,700 BC Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus. The word “brain” is mentioned eight times, when the writers were describing the symptoms, diagnosis, and likely outcomes of two people who had head wounds; compound fractures of the skull. Papyrus is an Ancient Egyptian form of paper, made from the papyrus plant. The plant grows wild in marches next to the Nile river – it was cultivated for making paper. Edwin Smith (1822-1906) was an American antique dealer and collector. He gave his name to this particular papyrus.

Hieroglyphics of the word “brain” in the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, 1,700 BC

At around 500 B.C., varying views on the brain began to emerge in Ancient Greece. Alcmaeon, believed to be a student of Pythagoras, wrote that the brain is where the mind is; he was probably the first person in history to express the idea in writing. Hippocrates soon followed, saying the brain is the seat of intelligence.

Later, Aristotle (384-322 BC), a Greek philosopher and polymath, went slightly off the mark by saying that the brain is a blood cooling mechanism and that the heart is the seat of intelligence. He argued that the humans behave more rationally than animals because our larger brains cool down hot blood, thus preventing hot-bloodedness.

Herophilus of Calcedonia (circa.330-250 BC), a Greek physician, and Erasistratus of Ceos (circa. 300-240 BC), a Greek anatomist and royal physician, are known to have made considerable useful contributions to brain and nervous system anatomy. Unfortunately, their writings were lost – we only know about their contributions through secondary sources.

Galen of Pergamon (129-circa. 200), a Greek anatomist who worked in Rome, said that the cerebrum was where the senses were processed because it is soft, while the cerebellum controls muscles because it is denser than the brain.

The microscope – which was probably invented in the Netherlands in 1590 allowed for a much deeper understanding of the brain.

During the late 1980s, Gamillo Golgi (1843-1926) an Italian physician, pathologist, and scientist, used silver chromate salt to show what single neurons looked like. Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934),a Spanish pathologist, histologist, and neuroscientist, took Golgi’s work further and formed the neuron doctrine – a hypothesis that the neuron is the functional unit of the brain. In 1906, Golgi and Cajal were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their extensive works and categorizations of neurons in the brain.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Hermann von Hemholtz, (1821-1894) a German physician and physicist, Hohannes Peter Müller, (1801-1858), a German physiologist, comparative anatomist, ichthyologist, and herpetologist, and Emil du Bois-Reymond, (1818-1896) a German physician and physiologist, demonstrated the electrical excitability of neurons, and how the electrical state of adjacent neurons predictably were affected by an electrically excited neuron.

At the same time, Pierre Paul Broca (1824-1880) a French physician, surgeon, anatomist, and anthropologist, worked on patients who had brain damage. He came to the conclusion that different regions in the brain were involved in specific functions.

John Hughlings Jackson (1835-1911), an English neurologist, through observations of patients with epilepsy, worked out how the motor cortex was organized while watching seizure progression through the body.

Carl Wernicke (1848-1905), a German physician, anatomist, psychiatrist and neuropathologist, believed that certain parts of the brain were responsible for understanding and uttering language.


Neuroscience during the twentieth century and today

From the 1950s onwards, the scientific study of the nervous system made huge advances, mainly because of the progress achieved in other and related fields, such as computational neuroscience, electrophysiology, and molecular biology. Neuroscientists were able to study the nervous system’s structure, functions, development, abnormalities, and ways it can be altered.


Source: Medical News today