Neuron doctrine or reticular theory? The benefits of incorporating historical events into neuroscience classes

Laurie SWAN
Program in Physical Therapy, Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, Michigan


Purpose: Foundation courses in neuroscience are often a process of memorization at a factual level. The purpose of this presentation is to demonstrate how incorporating historical episodes into beginning level neuroscience courses can give contextual meaning and life to neuroscience.

Description: This presentation uses the controversy between Cajal and Golgi to illustrate three reasons why history can be beneficial in teaching neuroscience. First, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". Cajal's reductionism extended into the twentieth century, precluding a holistic view of the nervous system for many years. Late in the twentieth century, scientists began to understand that behavior is the integration of many different neurological systems, and a holistic view of the nervous system re-emerged. This lesson from the past has taught us that both reductionism and holism need to be included in the study of the nervous system. Second, incorporating history can move the cognitive level of Bloom's Taxonomy from a knowledge level (remembering facts) to an application level (using a concept to solve a problem). When teaching about chemical versus electrical synaptic transmission, Cajal's Neuron Doctrine and Golgi's Reticular Theory can be introduced. Students can be asked to defend one or both of these theories using current knowledge of synaptic transmission. Lastly, incorporating historical incidents encourages students to see that in science, personal attacks are a normal state of affairs. The opposing viewpoints of Cajal and Golgi were hotly contested during their acceptance speeches for the Nobel Prize. Should both of these scientists have won the Nobel Prize? What were some possible considerations in that time period of the people that decided that both Cajal and Golgi should be recognized?

Conclusion: This poster reviews potential benefits of incorporating historical events into a neuroscience class. Faculty may use this presentation as a starting point to incorporate the history of neuroscience into their classrooms.


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