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Vol. 16 No. 1 (2018)

A Tale of Two Brains- Cortical localization and neurophysiology in the 19th and 20th century

March 10, 2018


Introduction: Other authors have well described the importance of experimental physiology in the development of brain sciences and the individual discoveries of the founding fathers of modern neurology. Here is discussed the birth of neurological sciences in the 19th and 20th century and their epistemological origins.

Discussion: In the span of two hundred years, we saw the emergence of two different brains: the neuroanatomical brain, exemplified by cortical localization and the anatomo-clinical approach pioneered by Jean-Martin Charcot, and the neurophysiological brain, exemplified by Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s neuron doctrine and pre-modern electrophysiology. We can distinguish between brain function, understood as the attribution of physiological functions to discrete anatomical structures, and brain functioning, understood as an approach to nervous system functioning and physiology that emphasizes mechanisms.

Conclusion:   In the 19th and 20th century, the brain became an organ with a physiology that could be understood. However, we saw the development of two different conceptions of the brain, which continue to influence neurological sciences to this day.

Relevance: With modern cognitive neuroscience, functional neuroanatomy, cellular and molecular neurophysiology and neural networks, neurological sciences all have different analytical units, which are tributaries of the 19th and 20th century development of the neuroanatomical and neurophysiological brains.


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