January 24, 2008

Brain anatomy and a re-post: Scientific image database and Descartes' brain

Today I had a human brain anatomy demonstration for the undergrad students in the neurobiology course that my group is in charge of. It wasn't a long time ago that I was an undergrad myself and as I remember, this demonstration was one of the best parts. To get to hold and study an actual human brain that once belonged to someone and contained that person's personality and thoughts, to see in an actual brain how well structured and organized the brain is... it's a great thing. Since it's my first time I was a bit insecure in the beginning but I think it went great and I got the impression that the students left with the same feeling I did when I took the course some two-odd years ago.

When I was preparing for the demonstration yesterday I got some images from the Wellcome-images database and I remembered that I had blogged about it some time ago. It's a really great resource and an excellent source of procrastination. Here's a re-post of that:

>>Re-post from July 10, 2007.

Ref: Wellcome Images

The Wellcome Trust has launched a really great image database with all kinds of historical and scientific pictures. Just do a simple search on the word "brain" and bask in it's awesomeness. I was stuck for hours just looking up stuff. It's a really great resource. You can find it at http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/.

The old anatomical drawings fascinate me most of all. Like these ones; neuroanatomical drawings from the early 19th century, just astounding. History, science and art, all in one.

The above picture is one of my favorites. It's from Descartes' Treatise on Man and shows his peculiar view of the brain. He thought that the human being was two separate entities, body and soul, and that the two were connected through the pineal gland (the small bulbous-y thing in the center of the image, marked with an H). Descartes wanted to discuss the relationship between the body and the mind through sensory input and motoric output and involved the pineal gland as some sort of intermediary. He was wrong about that but the pineal gland does have a connection to the eye. It's involved in the control of biological rhythms and as such it receives light cues from the environment through the retina. This essential for "setting the clock", so to speak, but it happens through completely different pathways than vision. So that he included the eye so predominantly in the image makes it extra cool, even though he was completely out to lunch. A very nice image.

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