Wired Together: The Montreal Neurological Institute and the Origins of Modern Neuroscience, 1928-1965
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CitationPrkachin, Yvan. 2018. Wired Together: The Montreal Neurological Institute and the Origins of Modern Neuroscience, 1928-1965. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation presents a reinterpretation of the historical development of modern neuroscience during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Contrary to the existing historiography, I argue that an interdisciplinary approach to unravelling the mind/brain relationship did not develop first at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) under the aegis of F.O. Schmitt and the Neurosciences Research Program in the 1950s. Rather, modern neuroscience was the product of a relatively small group of historical actors operating at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) between 1928 and 1965. Under the leadership of its founder, the neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, the MNI became a unique site for medical research into the human brain, and achieved an unprecedented level of disciplinary integration. Chapter One examines the origins of Penfield’s vision for an interdisciplinary neurological institute; the structure of the MNI was rooted not only in the broader agenda of his Rockefeller Foundation patrons for interdisciplinary medicine, but also in Penfield’s scientific biography, which included considerable experience in laboratories and clinics in Europe as well as the United States. Penfield sought to create a new kind of neurological clinic that could employ the insights of the emerging science of histology and cytology – the microscopic study of tissues and cells – to advance the professional standing of neurosurgery. Penfield ultimately established a clinic in Montreal, a city that he felt would allow him access to the scientific and medical cultures of Europe and North America. Surgery for epilepsy became the signature operation of the new clinic. Chapter Two traces the development of neuropsychology at the MNI. Penfield recruited a series of young psychologists to address post-operative intelligence and memory deficits. The nearly two-decade collaboration between the MNI’s surgeons and the psychologists D.O. Hebb, Molly Harrower and Brenda Milner led to the emergence of cognitive neuroscience as a new field of inquiry. Chapter Three details the contributions of Penfield’s closest collaborator, Herbert Jasper, whose pioneering work with the electroencephalograph (EEG) not only reinvigorated the study of the functional anatomy of the human brain, but also acted as a crystallization point for global efforts to create an Interdisciplinary Brain Research Organization (IBRO). The IBRO became the acknowledge origin of neuroscience outside of the United States. Jasper’s brand of neuroscience displayed a notably different style from that emerging at MIT. An examination of how the MNI and MIT groups addressed the issue of memory illustrates these different styles; while the MIT group searched fruitlessly for a ‘memory molecule’ akin to DNA, the MNI group engaged in more profitable studies of the functional anatomy of memory. Chapter Four examines the troubled relationship between the MNI and the field of psychiatry as a case study in failed interdisciplinarity. Penfield was initially optimistic about incorporating psychiatry into the interdisciplinary community at Montreal; however, the psychiatrist selected to run Montreal’s new training facility for psychiatrists, the Allan Memorial Institute (AMI), was uninterested in collaborating, except on the issue of psychosurgery. The issue of psychosurgery led to a breakdown of communication between MNI and AMI, leading Cameron to disassociate himself from the Montreal neuroscience community. This disassociation afforded him the opportunity to engage in ethically questionable experiments in ‘psychic driving’ that were later revealed to be funded by the American CIA. In the Conclusion, I reflect upon the reasons for the decline of the MNI, and the ascendance of MIT’s molecular approach to neuroscience. Drawing on the insights of Mark Granovetter, I argue that the MNI’s brand of neuroscience was a product of its strong assemblies of historical actors, which were enriched by its ‘weak ties’ to other scientific cultures.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41129148
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