Portraits of European Neuroscientists: la gallery dedicata ai neuroscienziati

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Portraits of European Neuroscientists è l’interessante sito sviluppato da Nicholas Wade, Marco Piccolino e Adrian Simmons che offre una galleria di ritratti di neuroscienziati partendo dai “pionieri”. La finalità è insieme artistica e storica. Ogni ritratto è accompagnato da un testo di presentazione sullo scienziato, sulla sua opera o sul suo pensiero.

” Neuroscience, as a discipline, did not exist until the late 20th century. It emerged as a consequence of the endeavours of many who conspired to illuminate the structure of the nervous system, the manner of communication within it, its links to reflexes and its relation to more complex behaviour, as well as to perceptual experience. Neuroscience is a neologism of recent years: the term was introduced in the 1960s by the American scholar Francis Otto Schmitt as a convenient term to indicate a multidisciplinary research team investigating brain function and the Society for Neuroscience was founded in 1970.

Schmitt’s original team included different researchers ranging from biologists, anatomists, biochemists, physicists, engineers to neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, but now the field of investigation covered by the term (often described in the plural form of Neurosciences) includes neurolinguistics, neurophilosophy and even neuroaesthetics and neuroeconomy. Despite the widespread use of the term ‘neuroscience’ it is seldom accorded a definition of any detail. In general, neuroscience thrives on its vague appeal to advances that are being achieved in studies of the nervous system, and as such the origins of neuroscience stretch back to antiquity. Particularly large strides were made in the nineteenth century. Neuroscience emerged from the biological sciences because conceptual building blocks were isolated, and the ways in which they can be arranged were explored. The foundations on which the structure could be securely based were the cell and neuron doctrines on the biological side, and morphology and electrophysiology on the functional side. The morphological doctrines were dependent on the development of microtomes and achromatic microscopes and of appropriate staining methods so that the sections of anatomical specimens could be examined in greater detail. Electrophysiology provided the conceptual modern framework on which the notion of the nervous function was envisioned as depending on an ongoing flux of electrical signals along the nervous pathways at both central and peripheral level. These aspects of the history of neuroscience will be explored by portraying some of those who have advanced understanding of the nervous system and its functions. With such a rich legacy it is difficult to determine a starting point. The one adopted is around 1500, when Leonardo da Vinci married art and science in his studies of the human body.

It is similarly difficult to define the geographical regions that should be surveyed. Great strides were made in Eastern medicine, especially in the period that is called the Dark Ages in Europe. However, the starting point chosen, around the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, also determines the places where advances were made, and that is Europe. Within Europe the sweep of neuroscience followed that of science generally and it is clearly reflected in the nationalities of those portrayed. The impetus came from Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries, and then gradually moved west and north. France was in the ascendency in the 18th century, followed by Germany in the 19th century and afterwards England and America. Throughout, individual genius emerged in other countries, but the movements also reflected the institutionalization of science, both in specialised societies and in universities.”

 

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