New insights into brain research

New insights into brain research

By Hans Kermit

Niels Stensen did not himself publish anything on the anatomy of the human brain. That he is honored today for this contribution to the understanding of that organ is due, above all, to his famous lecture on the brain which he delivered in Paris in 1665.  The lecture consisted of four parts:

  1. An admission of how little was known about the brain;
  2. An account of the usual sources of error in brain research
  3. The need for new techniques in the study of the brain
  4. A new agenda for brain research and a re-appraisal of accepted views on the organ.

Stensen pointed out in his lecture that in the act of dissection we affect the objects we are investigating. This is an important factor which we must be aware of both when dissecting and making preparations to do so. Stensen also rejected Descartes’ notion that the pineal gland was the link between the body and the soul. He concluded his lecture by calling for a collective scientific effort instead of a blind belief in the authorities. He recommended that wholly accurate drawings of the brain be made and that its different parts be given unambiguous names.

Stensen’s lecture on the brain represents a paradigm shift in brain research. His contemporaries were confronted with how little they actually knew about the brain. At the same time Stensen demonstrated that progress would only be made if painstaking investigations and a precise terminology replaced speculation and theorizing.