Neurosciences in Los Angeles or Angels in neurosciences?

Geneviève AUBERT
Universitairé Catholique de Louvain; Department of Neurology, Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc, Bruxelles, Belgium

The range of topics covered by neurosciences is extremely diverse, from neuroanatomy to neurosurgery, through neurolinguistics and neurophilosophy. Recently, spectacular breakthroughs in neuromythology and neurotheology have been reported. Surprisingly, despite their ubiquity, angels have received scant attention in this context. We carried on an in-depth search through ancient and modern, scientific and general literature. We considered appropriate to present here the preliminary results of this study.

Wings are the best known attributes of angels. References to wings have been found in many neurological publications. Brain edema associated with sphenoid wing metastasis or meningioma, or winging of the scapulae observed in neuromuscular disorders are but two examples. However, angels' wings seem a recent acquisition, dating back to the fifth century AC only. In the Bible, angels commute between earth and heaven by a ladder. Ladder climbing still is part of standard function testing in behavioral assessment of motor skill learning in rats.

The common phenomenological base from which experiences of angels is derived, appears to be a right hemispheric homologue of the left hemispheric sense of self, according to an experimental study of exposition to weak complex magnetic fields (Cook & Persinger, 1997). Disappointingly, we were unable to trace any reference to experimental studies of angels in dreams. Similarly, the messenger role of angels is not reminded in the terminology of neurotransmitters.

The role of protective angels in pain relief has been addressed in one study of post-surgical pain management (Heilgman & al., 1983). On a neuropharmacological side, not surprisingly, Angelica archangelica, of the family Umbelliferae, has well-known antimigrainous properties.

The most numerous figures of angels in neurosciences have been found in the literature dedicated to neurorehabilitation and mental health nursing. Particularly interesting are the studies addressing such issues as professionalization and unionization, the division of labor and the gendered dimensions of nursing as women's work. This last subject raises a heated debate, as the sex of angels is still under discussion.

Session II -- Poster Session
Sunday, 2 June 2002, 10:00 - 11:00 am

Seventh Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Los Angeles, California, USA