Posted by: pkab | 24 January 2008


In the early 1800s, the “science” of phrenology (freh-NOL-uh-jee) was introduced by an Austrian doctor named Franz Gall. Gall theorized that studying the skull surfaces of people who had died would allow him to map their personalities onto the brain. He believed that different areas of the brain were responsible for different traits and that certain bumps or depressions on the skull would correlate with the person’s characteristics. Based on these studies, Gall created a map of the mind and started practicing what came to be known as phrenology on living people.Gall would use a special hat to map a total of 32 qualities, including attachment and friendship, cruelty, cleverness, memory, sense of humor, sense of words, and sense of color. When the hat was placed on the person’s head, any bumps on the surface of the skull would push certain pins upward through a piece of paper. The pattern on the paper was viewed as a readout of an individual’s character traits.

While this may sound unbelievable to twenty-first century psychologists, phrenology actually became quite popular in the nineteenth century. In addition to paying for phrenology readings, people would buy books and pamphlets on the subject. Some would even get a small personalized model of their head for the tip of their walking canes! In those days, phrenology seemed like a scientific way of understanding how personality is determined. In the twenty-first century, though, it sounds more like a horoscope or palm reading: it may be entertaining, but it has no basis in scientific fact.

Phrenology began to fall out of favor in the mid-i800s, when other discoveries refuted Dr. Gall’s theory. In 1861, the French anthropologist Paul Broca examined a man who was unable to speak, except for repeating the word “tan.” After the man died, Broca examined his brain and found that the damaged area was completely different from that predicted by phrenology. While phrenology suggested that language was controlled by the lower part of the left eye socket, Broca found that a small region toward the front of the left side of the brain was the true language center.

Nevertheless, Dr. Gall was on the right track in thinking that different regions of the brain are responsible for different functions.

Like the other structures of the nervous system, the brain is made up of neurons that receive, process, and transmit information across synapses through chemical means. It is also composed of supporting cells called glia (GLEE-uh), which provide a supporting structure for the neurons.

Paul Broca (1824-1880) discovered the area in the frontal lobe of the brain, now known as Broca's area, that controls speech. Patients with damage to this area can understand the speech of others, but are unable to speak themselves. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Paul Broca (1824-1880) discovered the area in the frontal lobe of the brain, now known as Broca’s area, that controls speech. Patients with damage to this area can understand the speech of others, but are unable to speak themselves.

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Brain cells cannot divide and replace themselves like other cells in the body can. The brain of a human newborn contains as many neurons as it will ever have; in fact, people lose as many as 200,000 brain cells per day as they age. By the time people enter their 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s, they may have lost anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of their original brain tissue. This helps explain why some older people (though certainly not all!) slow down mentally or have trouble remembering (Sur – In Bahasa we call it Pikun or Penurunan Daya Ingat. In Malaysian language it called as Nyanyuk). Just as people need to keep their bodies in shape, they need to keep their brains in shape by taking on new challenges and learning new things. Also, people should wear that bicycle helmet; if brain cells are lost at any age because of injury or disease, they cannot replaced.

The brain has many different regions that are marked by textural or color differences or that are separated by fluid-filled areas. Throughout the twentieth century, researchers made major advances in understanding how different areas of the brain are involved in the control of activities such as movement, hearing, speech, and emotions. Scientists have also learned that these specific areas cannot carry out these functions alone. Instead, it is now known that different areas in the brain have to work together to accomplish all the complex activities that are part of human thought and consciousness.

So the brain really does function like an orchestra!

Source: Human Illness

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