Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Old brains, new ideas

Category: History of neuroscienceNeuroscience

Posted on: July 16, 2007 9:22 PM, by Mo

The French anatomist, anthropologist, and surgeon Pierre Paul Broca (1824-1880, left) is best remembered for his descriptions of two patients who had lost the ability to speak after sustaining damage to the left frontal lobe of the brain. Broca's observations of these patients, and the conclusions he reached after his post-mortem examinations, would lead to major advances in the understanding of the brain, and laid the foundations for modern neuropsychology.

In 1859, Broca founded the Societe d'Anthropologie de Paris. Two years later, several heated debates had arisen there: one was about the relationship between brain size, race and intelligence, and the other about the localization of cerebral function. In the latter, one of the main proponents of the localization theory was Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828), the founder of phrenology. Gall and others believed that the faculty of articulate speech resided in the anterior lobes of the brain, but most members of the scientific community were cautious; some argued that Phineas Gage provided strong evidence against the theory that speech was localized to the anterior lobes. Gage, a railroad worker, had suffered severe frontal lobe damage in 1848 when a tamping iron was propelled through his skull, but had retained his ability to speak after the injury.