Brainstormings: from brayne to brain imaging, an etymology of the word brain
The colloquialism “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings true in the neurosciences today. With the aid of recent advancements in brain imaging technologies, the word brain now conjures up an impressive portfolio of active brain snapshots. These images have essentially replaced verbal treatises and idioms that once depicted the nature of the brain. In technical journals, for example, researchers insert the brain as they would a graph or table; to provide a compact toolbox of information for their readers. Similarly, popular magazines sport the brain on the cover, seeking to visually soothe the latest cultural grievance such as gender or race. Despite its recent photogenia, however, the brain has a rich epistemic history that predates its aesthetic coming of age. This paper explores how the fascinating etymology of the word brain gives insight into past conceptions of it while also offering an appreciation of the contemporary brain as a historically situated icon.
Tenth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the
History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
St. Andrews, Scotland, 2005