Neuroscience history and neuroscience politics

Edward G. JONES

Center for Neuroscience, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA


The foundations of the study of the nervous system are as deep as those of all biological science, commencing with the first insights into brain and cognitive function by the ancient Greeks. In recent history, neuroscience has its foundations in the cell theory and the extension of that theory to the nervous system in the form of the neuron doctrine, at the time a largely anatomically-formulated construct. With time, systems oriented neurophysiology became the predominant basic neuroscience discipline. Modern neuroscience as a discipline with a distinct multidisciplinary identity arose in the early 1970s as a union of the traditional fields of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, allied with neurology, psychiatry and neurosurgery and with early and growing input from the new discipline of neurochemistry. Neurobiology, although a term in use mainly by invertebrate neurophysiologists for some years prior to the recognition of neuroscience as a discipline, was relatively late in being accepted as a synonym. Neuroscience has developed by continuously incorporating new techniques and new concepts particularly from molecular biology and by drawing under its umbrella large numbers of young scientists trained in fields not traditionally associated with the study of the nervous system. The growth of the discipline has been paralleled by and its history can be charted by the growth of the Society for Neuroscience. It is interesting to reflect whether the remarkable growth and success of that society is a unique phenomenon or one akin to the development of the many specialist neurologically-oriented societies of the late 19th and early 20th century (with later decline of some of them). Recent discoveries in basic neuroscience have had a far greater impact on the understanding and treatment of neurological and psychiatric diseases than in previous history. With that has come the recognition of its value that extends far beyond the science itself, with the formation of a remarkable alliance between scientists, disease advocacy groups, the national Institutes that fund biomedical resarch and government itself. There has probably never been such an alliance in the past and it will surely have a profound influence on future directions in the field.


Panel 2A   (The Historiography of the Neurosciences in the Twentieth Century)
Tuesday, 14 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999