Tag Archives: brain

Medical History Special Issue on Material History of the Mind Sciences

A special issue of Medical History devoted to “Soul Catchers – A Material History of the Mind Sciences” is now available. The issue includes a number of articles – on drawing as an instrument, soul photography, and more – that may interest AHP readers.

Editorial: “Soul Catchers: The Material Culture of the Mind Sciences,” by Katja Guenther and Volker Hess.

“Brain Ways: Meynert, Bachelard and the Material Imagination of the Inner Life,” by Scott Phelps. The abstract reads,

The Austrian psychiatrist Theodor Meynert’s anatomical theories of the brain and nerves are laden with metaphorical imagery, ranging from the colonies of empire to the tentacles of jellyfish. This paper analyses among Meynert’s earliest works a different set of less obvious metaphors, namely, the fibres, threads, branches and paths used to elaborate the brain’s interior. I argue that these metaphors of material, or what the philosopher Gaston Bachelard called ‘material images’, helped Meynert not only to imaginatively extend the tracts of fibrous tissue inside the brain but to insinuate their function as pathways co-extensive with the mind. Above all, with reference to Bachelard’s study of the material imagination, I argue that Meynert helped entrench the historical intuition that the mind, whatever it was, consisted of some interiority – one which came to be increasingly articulated through the fibrous confines of the brain.

“Drawing as Instrument, Drawings as Evidence: Capturing Mental Processes with Pencil and Paper,” by Alicia Puglionesi. The abstract reads, Continue reading Medical History Special Issue on Material History of the Mind Sciences

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New Article: The Franz–Kalischer Priority Dispute

Shepherd Ivory Franz
Otto Kalischer

In the March 2016 issue of The Psychological Record includes an article by Roger K. Thomas exploring the priority dispute between Shepherd Ivory Franz and Otto Kalischer over who first combined animal training with brain extirpation. Full details follow below.

“Priority Disputes in the History of Psychology with Special Attention to the Franz–Kalischer Dispute About Who First Combined Animal Training with Brain Extirpation to Investigate Brain Functions,” by Roger K. Thomas. The abstract reads,

Shepherd Ivory Franz (American) and Otto Kalischer (German) each claimed to have been the first to combine animal training and brain extirpation to study brain function, a methodological approach that historians assert fundamentally changed subsequent neuropsychological research. Each defended his claim in 1907 in back-to-back commentaries in the journal Zentralblatt für Physiologie. Before considering details of the Franz versus Kalischer dispute, it was deemed useful to consider priority disputes in general and to revisit the priority claims for who discovered the “conditioned reflex” and whether Pierre Flourens was the “father” of brain extirpation as examples of this type of research. Consideration of the Franz–Kalischer dispute began with a brief history of the study of brain function to provide background and context for the Franz–Kalischer dispute. For additional context, biographic sketches of Franz and Kalischer are presented. Then, details of the dispute are presented and discussed followed by conclusions that include that Franz (The American Journal of Physiology, 8, 1–22, 1902) preceded Kalischer (1907a) and that it is highly unlikely that anyone before Franz had used his combination of innovative methods. Finally, the perceived importance of being first to combine animal training with brain extirpation is represented by quotations from several authors of history or psychology textbooks and one author of a history of neuroscience textbook.

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Gender on the Brain: Neuroscience, Stereotypes, & Science Communication

brain-gender-stereotypeCliodnha O’Connor and Helene Joffe out of the Division of Psychology & Language Sciences at University College London have conducted an interesting analysis of how public audiences have responded to research on neurobiological sexual dimorphism, Gender on the Brain: A Case Study of Science Communication in the New Media Environment.

Using a 2013 PNAS article titled Sex Differences in the Structural Connectome of the Human Brain as case study, the authors “tracked the journey of the PNAS research from its initial scientific publication, through a university-issued press release, into its reception in the traditional news media, online reader comments and blog entries.” Acccording to the abstract, their analysese “suggested that scientific research on sex difference offers an opportunity to rehearse abiding cultural understandings of gender. In both scientific and popular contexts, traditional gender stereotypes were projected onto the novel scientific information, which was harnessed to demonstrate the factual truth and normative legitimacy of these beliefs.”

In a London School of Economics and Political Science Blog post, O’Connor elucidates the highlights of their piece:  Continue reading Gender on the Brain: Neuroscience, Stereotypes, & Science Communication

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Special Issue of Science in Context: “Of Means and Ends: Mind and Brain Science in the Twentieth Century”


Stephen Casper
Stephen Casper

The March 2015 issue of Science in Context is now online. Guest edited by Stephen T. Casper (left), the articles in this special issue explore the roles played by context in the brain and mind sciences. To quote the epilogue written by Roderick Buchanan, the included essays “illustrate the changing cultural form and function of the biopsyche disciplines – disciplines that are both sciences and technologies of selfhood. To varying degrees, each essay actively engages Paul Forman’s [2007] thesis on modern and postmodern cultural valuations of science and technology.” Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow.




“Of Means and Ends: Mind and Brain Science in the Twentieth Century,” by Stephen T. Casper. The abstract reads:

What role does context play in the mind and brain sciences? This introductory article, “Of Means and Ends,” explores that question through its focus on the ways scientists and physicians engaged with and constructed technology in the mind and brain sciences in the twentieth century. This topical issue addresses how scientists, physicians, and psychologists came to see the ends of technology as important in-and-of themselves. In so doing, the authors of these essays offer an interpretation of historian Paul Forman’s revisionist and highly contextualist chronology of the twentieth century, which presents the comparatively recent tendency to aggrandize the ends of technology as evidence of a major, epochal transformation in the epistemic culture of twentieth-century American science. This collection of papers suggests that it was in the vanguard of such fields as psychology, psychiatry, and neurophysiology in North America and Europe that the ends and applications of technology became important in-and-of themselves.

Continue reading Special Issue of Science in Context: “Of Means and Ends: Mind and Brain Science in the Twentieth Century”

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New HHS: Brain Sciences in the Lycée, Linguistics in Imperial Germany, & Much More

Larry McGrath

The February 2015 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are articles on educational reformers’ promotion of brain sciences in Third Republic France, shifting attention in linguistics to “living” language in Imperial Germany, the cultural psychology of Giambattista Vico, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Confronting the brain in the classroom: Lycée policy and pedagogy in France, 1874–1902,” by Larry McGrath. The abstract reads,

During the influx of neurological research into France from across Europe that took place rapidly in the late 19th century, the philosophy course in lycées (the French equivalent of high schools) was mobilized by education reformers as a means of promulgating the emergent brain sciences and simultaneously steering their cultural resonance. I contend that these linked prongs of philosophy’s public mission under the Third Republic reconciled contradictory pressures to advance the nation’s scientific prowess following its defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 without dropping France’s distinct tradition of 19th-century spiritualism, which extended from Maine de Biran’s philosophical psychology to Victor Cousin’s official eclectic spiritualism. Between 1874 and 1902, the French Ministry of Public Instruction transformed philosophy into a national project designed to guide the reception of experimental psychology generally and neurology in particular. This article features original archival research on philosophy textbooks and students’ course notes that illuminate the cultural and intellectual impact of these sciences in the fin de siècle from inside the classroom. I argue that the scientific turn in the psychology section of the lycée philosophy course reflected and brought about a distinct philosophical movement that I call ‘scientific spiritualism’. While historians have analysed philosophy instruction as a mechanism used by the Third Republic to secularize students, this article sheds new light on lycée philosophy professors’ campaign to promote scientific spiritualism as a means to advance incipient brain research and pare its reductionist implications.

“Avestan studies in Imperial Germany: Sciences of text and sound,” by Judith R. H. Kaplan. The abstract reads, Continue reading New HHS: Brain Sciences in the Lycée, Linguistics in Imperial Germany, & Much More

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Explore the Atlas of HM’s Brain at the Brain Observatory

The Brain Observatory at the University of California San Diego, directed by Jacopo Annese, has made available as part of its Digital Brain Library an atlas of H.M.’s brain. H.M., now known to be Henry Molaison, is one of the best known case studies in memory research. Molaison experienced profound amnesia following a bilateral medial temporal lobectomy and was subsequently studied for more than 50 years. Following his death in 2008, Molaison’s brain was donated to science and sectioned into more than 2400 slices (right), a procedure that was aired live on the web (see a previous AHP post on this process here). As described on the site,

In December 2009, Annese and his team at The Brain Observatory dissected H.M.’s brain into 2,401 thin tissue slices that have been preserved cryogenically in serial order. The collection was meant to support the histological examination of the brain and to better understand the neurological basis of human memory function. While the brain was being sliced, we collected an unabridged series of digital images of the surface of the block each corresponding to individual tissue sections. These images were archived and used to create a 3-D model of the whole brain. A regular series of sections through the brain was stained and digitized at a resolution of 0.37 microns per pixel to reveal cellular-level features. These virtual sections, a matching series of anatomically delineated images, and data from postmortem MRI of the specimen were combined into an atlas of patient H.M.’s brain.

The atlas was conceived as a web-accessible resource to support collaboration and retrospective studies.

Project HM can be explored in full here.

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Toronto Talk, Oct. 9th: Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, HM

For anyone in the Toronto area, an upcoming talk at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) may be of interest. On October 9th, at 6pm, Dr. Suzanne Corkin will be speaking on her recent book, Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, HM. Corkin spent decades studying the patient popularly known as H.M., who was revealed to be Henry Molaison after his death in 2008. (See  AHP’s previous post on the fate of H.M.’s brain here.) Research with H.M., who was unable to form longterm memories following extensive brain surgery for epilepsy, was central to psychological work on how longterm memories are formed.

The event – sponsored by the Faculty of Health, York University, the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, and the Department of Psychology, University of Toronto – is free to attend but pre-registration is required. The Permanent Present Tense lecture is described as follows,

Dr. Suzanne Corkin is an esteemed memory expert and Professor Emerita of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT (Cambridge, MA). Dr. Corkin is best known for her work with one of the most famous cases in medical history, the amnesic patient Henry Gustave Molaison. In her lecture, Dr. Corkin will speak about their nearly 50-year research partnership, which taught us much of what we know today about memory. Her lecture will be followed by a signing of her recent book, Permanent Present Tense, which documents the incredible story of H.M. and his groundbreaking contributions to the science of memory.

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Angelo Mosso & “Weighing Brain Activity with the Balance”

Neuroskeptic, over on Discover Blogs, has just posted a review of an article now in press at Brain on nineteenth century Italian physiologist Angelo Mosso’s attempts to measure blood flow to the brain. As Neuroskeptic describes, Mosso’s

…early work included studies of the blood pressure in the brains of individuals with skull defects. His most ambitious project, however, was his balance – or as he sometimes called it, according to his daughter, his ‘metal cradle’ or ‘machine to weigh the soul’….

It was in essence just a large balance. A volunteer lay on a table, their head on one side of the scale’s pivot and their feet on the other. It was carefully adjusted so that the two sides were perfectly balanced.

The theory was that if mental activity caused increased brain blood flow, it ought to increase the weight of the head relative to the rest of the body, so that side of the balance would fall.

Mosso claimed that this, indeed, occurred – starting to read a newspaper caused the brain to get weightier, while a difficult book of philosophy was even more effective, presumably because it required more mental effort to understand.

You can read Neuroskeptic’s review online here. Full article details follow below.

“Weighing brain activity with the balance: Angelo Mosso’s original manuscripts come to light,” by S. Sandrone, M. Bacigaluppi, M. R. Galloni, S. F. Cappa, A. Moro, M. Catani, M. Filippi, M. M. Monti, D. Perani, & G. Martino. The abstract reads,

Neuroimaging techniques, such as positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging are essential tools for the analysis of organized neural systems in working and resting states, both in physiological and pathological conditions. They provide evidence of coupled metabolic and cerebral local blood flow changes that strictly depend upon cellular activity. In 1890, Charles Smart Roy and Charles Scott Sherrington suggested a link between brain circulation and metabolism. In the same year William James, in his introduction of the concept of brain blood flow variations during mental activities, briefly reported the studies of the Italian physiologist Angelo Mosso, a multifaceted researcher interested in the human circulatory system. James focused on Mosso’s recordings of brain pulsations in patients with skull breaches, and in the process only briefly referred to another invention of Mosso’s, the ‘human circulation balance’, which could non-invasively measure the redistribution of blood during emotional and intellectual activity. However, the details and precise workings of this instrument and the experiments Mosso performed with it have remained largely unknown. Having found Mosso’s original manuscripts in the archives, we remind the scientific community of his experiments with the ‘human circulation balance’ and of his establishment of the conceptual basis of non-invasive functional neuroimaging techniques. Mosso unearthed and investigated several critical variables that are still relevant in modern neuroimaging such as the ‘signal-to-noise ratio’, the appropriate choice of the experimental paradigm and the need for the simultaneous recording of differing physiological parameters.

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APA Monitor: Building a ‘Better’ Brain

The May 2013 issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology is now online. This month’s Time Capsule section features an article on the work of psychologist David Krech. In this piece Barbara Lusk describes Krech’s interest, in the wake of Watson and Crick’s work on the structure of DNA, in the possibility that RNA encoded learned information and that knowledge of such could be used to improve brain functioning. As she describes,

A watershed event occurred in 1965 when Krech arranged a multi-session symposium on “Brain, Biochemistry and Behavior” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. Approximately 2,000 attendees heard prominent geneticists, anatomists, biochemists, physiologists, pharmacologists, neurologists and psychologists who discussed the tantalizing evidence on the role of RNA. Biochemist Bernard Agranoff of the University of Michigan reported that administering various RNA or protein-synthesis inhibitors before or just after training had significant adverse effects on the retention of newly acquired learning in goldfish. In other experiments, James McGaugh and Lewis Petrinovich (both former students of Krech) demonstrated that increasing RNA synthesis by administering strychnine improved learning. Psychiatrist Ewen Cameron of McGill University reported that yeast RNA administered to elderly people suffering from dementia had a positive effect on their memory. Researchers at Abbott Labs reported that Cylert (magnesium pemoline) enhanced learning in rats and, more important, that human trials were planned.

In both his introductory remarks and closing commentary at the symposium, Krech worried out loud. The potential benefits of this research, he agreed, were enormous. But the social and ethical questions raised by this work were of the same magnitude as those resulting from the achievements of the atomic physicists: If the biochemical tools are developed, will governments be tempted to manipulate the behavior of their citizens? Should scientists or governments tamper with individuals’ natural endowments? Should such potions, once developed, be used only to treat cognitive deficiencies or should they be used to enhance normal functioning? Who gets what and when? Who bears the cost of these treatments? Who decides? Who keeps watch over those who do?

The full article can be read online here.

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New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

The April 2013 issue of the journal History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in these issue are seven all new articles on topics that include the history of psychiatric ideas about self-harm, madness and the brain, and early British and American sociology. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Religion, polygenism and the early science of human origins,” by Terence D. Keel. The abstract reads,

American polygenism was a provocative scientific movement whose controversial claim that humankind did not share a common ancestor caused a firestorm among naturalists and the lay public beginning in the 1830s. This article gives specific attention to the largely overlooked religious ideas marshaled by American polygenists in their effort to construct race as a unit of analysis. I focus specifically on the thought of the American polygenist and renowned surgeon Dr Josiah Clark Nott (1804–73) of Mobile, Alabama. Scholars have claimed that in his effort to establish a properly modern scientific view of race Nott was one of the first American naturalists to publicly denounce the notion of common human descent (monogenesis) as proclaimed in the Bible. I argue that despite his rejection of monogenesis, Nott’s racial theory remained squarely within the tradition of Christian ideas about the natural world. American polygenism provides an example of how scientific and religious ideas worked together in the minds of American antebellum thinkers in the development of novel theories about race and human origins.

“Badness, madness and the brain – the late 19th-century controversy on immoral persons and their malfunctioning brains,” by Felix Schirmann. The abstract reads, Continue reading New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

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