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7.1. A Quick History of Brain Science


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 7. How The Brain Works > 7.1. A Quick History of Brain Science

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The brain is, in many ways, the last frontier of modern medicine and despite many years of research much of its functioning is still something of a mystery.

Beginning our history with the ancient Egyptians, the brain was not thought to be very significant for the journey after mummified death, and their embalmers scooped it out down the nostrils and threw it away. The Greeks had a greater regard for the brain, knowing that this was the place where thinking occurred, although they concluded that the mind and spirit existed in the internal cavities of the head. This inextricable mixing of body and soul continued until Descartes, the 17th century philosopher and mathematician (founder of Cartesian logic), concluded that the physical body and the metaphysical mind/soul were separate things.

The brain started to get more attention in the renaissance from such notaries as da Vinci, who mapped much of the human body, and in the 18th century, along with the discovery of electricity and Galvani’s experiments with frog’s legs, the nerves were identified as ‘wires in the body’.

By the mid 19th century, the functions of various parts of the brain were beginning to be identified, often through observing the location of brain injuries and the resultant impairment. Other discoveries came through gruesome experiments, such as the removal of a dog’s cortex to show that as it could still walk, the motor parts of the brain were lower down.

Even in the modern day, brain surgeons still find their way around by prodding bits of the brain and asking the conscious patients what they feel. Although they know approximately where many functions lie, they do not know exactly where, and a short distance can separate very different motor or cognitive areas.

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