CogniFit's Science blog: Old Neuroscience From Egypt To Mainstream

Old Neuroscience From Egypt To Mainstream

There’s more to Egypt than pharaos, pyramids and mummies. This peculiar land of desert and oasis has been the birthplace of a brilliant civilization a long time ago, one that is very intrinsicly connected to the first steps of neuroscience.

Although surgical practices on the skull with the objective to cure headaches or brain damages have been performed since the Neolithic period, it was in the ancient Egypt that the first manuscripts were found showing an existing knowledge about the symptoms of brain damage. However this means in no way that the extent of this knowledge was high. In fact during that period the Egyptians believed that the center of intelligence in the human body was the heart, instead of the brain.

This view wasn’t challenged until the time of Hippocrates, when he defended that the brain was the the center of intelligence, but still during ancient Greece this theory wasn’t fully shared by the main philosophers. Later during the Roman empire, Galen, who was not only a follower of Hippocrates but also a physician in charge of the Roman gladiators, identified by observation that his patients would lose their mental faculties after severe brain damage.

There is very little information about developments in the field of neuroscience during the European Middle Age, but in Renaissance some important philosophers of that time – René Descartes to name the most recognized – dedicated to the study of the brain.

Until this period, we cannot really establish a scientific work being done in the neuroscience field. It wasn’t until the lat XIX Century, after the invention of the microscope and the development of a staining procedure by Camillo Golgi, that this field became more sophisticated and the development of modern neuroscience had its first steps. The procedure invented by Golgi revealed the structures of individual neurons, and led to the formation of the neuron doctrine.

Another area of development was related to the brain functions. By working with brain-damaged patients, Paul Broca’s research indicated that the brain was compartmented by functions, where each part of the brain was responsible for specific functions.

The developments in the knowledge of the brain have continued in the second half of the XX Century, leading to discoveries related to the role of neurons on the cognition (eg. memory storage and learning abilities) and the transmission of information. These developments initiated the so-called modern neuroscience, which has totally changed the perception of the scientific community about our brain.

As we can see from this brief historical background, the brain has remained throughout the history a pretty unknown part of our body. The knowledge developments were slow, unscientific until not long ago. However, since the 80s, the rate of developments in this area has rocketed and changed what the neuroscience is and can aspire to be. There is still much to learn.