A Brief History of the Brain
Since scientists realised that our personalities and behaviours originate inside our brains, they have been fascinated with how and why our brains work as they do. In fact, there is clear evidence of neuroscience practice stretching back to the earliest periods of time.
Research and study have led to many breakthroughs in our understanding. Assumptions have been debunked or proven by science. New assumptions, based on our expanding knowledge, are made and research moves on. There’s no reason to suppose that we will ever completely understand our full potential. Whatever boundaries we perceive, history proves we seek to surpass and overcome them. As a developing species, we may well be truly limitless – and our vast capacity for learning and achievement is all thanks to our amazing brains.
Let’s have a look back in time at a selection of some of the more unusual facts science has discovered about the brain and how it affects our behaviour.
10,000 BC – Evidence of treplanation exists throughout the earliest of records. Treplanation describes the act of boring a hole into the skull to release pressure. This release of pressure is known to have some positive affects on disorders such as depression and anxiety.
4,000 BC – Sumerian records detail the euphoric effects of poppy seeds on emotion and brain function.
460 – 379 BC – Epilepsy is identified as a disturbance of the brain by Hippocrates. In this same period of history, Hippocrates speculates that the brain is involved with the perception of physical sensation and is where our intelligence develops and resides.
280 BC – Erasistratus of Chios investigates the brain’s physical structure and notes that it contains many divisions.
1504 AD – Leonardo da Vinci produces wax impressions of the brain’s interior.
1808 – Franz Joseph Gall introduces the science of phrenology. Phrenology is founded on the idea that a person’s character can be determined by studying the bumps on their skull. Modern science now acknowledges there is a link between the brain’s physical structure and our behaviour and personality.
Throughout the 1820s – Jean Pierre Flourens conducts experiments in which he creates lesions inside animal brains. He then notes the effects these lesions have on motricity, sensibility and behaviour. This provides proof that certain areas of the physical brain are responsible for certain functions.
1848 AD – Phineas Gage suffers a massive traumatic injury to his brain’s frontal lobe. This affects his character profoundly, changing him from a previously placid person into someone who finds it difficult to control his anger and other negative emotions. The study of this leads to the discovery that important parts of our personality are controlled by this area of the brain and that injury to this area can change how we behave.
1872 – Darwin publishes studies on emotional responses and facial expressions in both humans and animals, explaining how we recognise emotion in others and adapt our behaviour in response.
1900 – Sigmund Freud theorises that much of human behaviour is driven by primitive impulses, which are hard-wired into our brains.
1936 – Walter Freeman and James Watts carry out the first human lobotomy, in which the brain’s frontal lobe is penetrated. This invasive procedure is thought to alleviate symptoms of depression and other psychological disorders. Lobotomy is no longer practised due to other negative effects it causes.
1953 – Nathaniel Kleitmann and Eugene Aserinsky observe and report on REM (Rapid Eye Movement) activity during sleep, proving that the brain is active during this time. Until this time, it was generally thought that the brain simply switched off whilst we were unconscious.
Throughout the 1950s – During this period of time, Roger Sperry and his team conduct tests on people who have had the two hemispheres of their brains surgically disconnected by severing the Corpus Callosum. He concludes that both halves of the brain contain the same consciousness. It also becomes apparent that each half of the brain can adapt to take on the functions of the other half.
1974 – Dr Candace Pert discovers the cellular bonding site for endorphins in our brain – the opiate receptor. This discovery paves the way for the theory that emotions are bio-chemical in nature and can be manipulated by adjustments to chemicals found in our brains.
Throughout the 1980s – Much research is carried out on the physiological structure of the brain as it relates to a person’s temperament. This research concludes that Neurological Dominance forms the foundation of our personality.
2001 – Elkhonen Goldberg proposes that, rather than each part of the brain controlling a different aspect, the regions work collaboratively as a whole, rather like the way that a conductor controls an orchestra.
2003 – Daniel Weinberger MD carries out extensive studies of the brain chemical, n–acetyl aspartate, which prove the genetic neurological link to mental disorders, such as schizophenia.
2013 – Kirsty Spalding and her team of researchers conduct studies which conclude that more than one third of the neurons in our brains are regularly renewed throughout our lives. This changes the previously held conception that our brains’ neuroplasticity is limited to our childhood and early adult lives.
Our brains truly are amazing, as are the dedicated scientists that seek to unravel their mysteries and understand more of what makes us who we are. Science never stands still and we can look forward to continuing discoveries that will excite and surprise us as we progress in our ongoing evolution.