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Friday, February 23, 2018

Wilder Penfield: the brain surgeon, to unravel the mysteries of the mind, to treat epilepsy

127 years ago, January 26, 1891, born canadian American neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield. He was engaged in the first place, the surgery of epilepsy, however, made a great contribution to the development of medicine and science in General. Today, Google has dedicated to the Penfield picture on the main page of its search engine.

Together with the electrophysiologist Herbert Jasper and Penfield developed a technique that enables the use of electrical stimulation of certain parts of the brain to assess the functions of its various structures and to localize epileptic foci. During surgery, patients were conscious and described his feelings. This allowed the neurosurgeon to create new functional maps of the cerebral cortex and for the first time to precisely apply a cortical region related to speech.

In his book titled “Mysteries of the mind” (The Mystery of Mind) a neurosurgeon recounts how he sought to prove that the mind depends entirely on brain, but came to the conclusion that the picture may be more complex: “the Mind is always above the content of our consciousness. It is an absolutely independent entity. The mind tells the brain performs. The brain is messenger to consciousness”, — he wrote.

Among patients of Penfield was, including the Soviet physicist Lev Landau, Nobel prize in physics in 1962. In the same year, he was in a car accident, after which the result of numerous fractures, bleeding and head trauma, he was in a coma for 59 days. After this scientific activity, he was hardly involved in science, however, in the opinion of his wife and son, Landau gradually returned to its normal condition. Unfortunately, in 1968, the physicist died for reasons not related to his brain. Helping Landau while he was in a coma, Penfield found evidence that even if motor control is completely lost and the brain is not able to continuously produce a record of the stream of consciousness, conscious perception persists.

Some of the sayings of Penfield suggests that he was a man witty and ironic. In particular, he belongs to the phrase “Even the greatest people, unless they die in youth, sooner or later must surrender to the pain”.

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