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Minds Behind the BrainA history of the pioneers and their discoveries$
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Stanley Finger

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195181821

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195181821.001.0001

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Santiago Ramón y Cajal: From Nerve Nets to Neuron Doctrine

Santiago Ramón y Cajal: From Nerve Nets to Neuron Doctrine

(p.197) 13 Santiago Ramón y Cajal: From Nerve Nets to Neuron Doctrine
Minds Behind the Brain

Stanley Finger (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Scientists knew very little about neurons in the 1870s, uncertain about whether closely associated fibers grow from the cell body and about their respective functions. Scientists also wondered whether neural conduction is in only one direction and just how the impulse passes from one unit to another. Three ingredients allowed 19th-century researchers to gain a better understanding of the elements of the nervous system. First, better microscopes enabled scientists to see their specimens at high magnification without distortion. Second, improvements in histological techniques made it possible for the cell bodies and their processes to stand out from the background. Finally, there was greater willingness to look with an open mind at slides containing pieces of stained brain. The man who did the most to topple the idea of nerve nets and promote a more realistic neuroanatomy was Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Cajal believed that both dendrites and axons must play roles in conveying nerve impulses. He also entertained the theory that the proliferation of neural connections in the cerebral cortex may correlate with intelligence.

Keywords:   neurons, neuroanatomy, microscopes, brain, cerebral cortex, intelligence, axons, dendrites, nerve nets

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