Wilder Penfield – charting the brain’s unknown territory

Neurophilosophy has a stimulating article on Wilder Penfield, the legendary Canadian neurosurgeon who pionered neuropsychological studies on the awake patient during brain surgery.

Penfield is most famous for his experiments where he electrically stimulated the brain of patients who had part of their skull removed during surgery to record what thoughts, behaviours and sensations arose from the excitation of specific parts of the cortex.

This research is still being done in modern times. My favourite is a 1991 study on electrical stimulation of the supplementary motor area SMA) by (no laughing now) Fried and colleagues.

What is most fascinating is that they found electrical stimulation could trigger the urge to movement or the expactation that a movement might occur, without triggering any movement itself. This stretched from quite vague feelings such as the “need to do something with right
hand” to very specific movement intentions such as the “urge to move right thumb and index finger”.

The gripping and typically well-researched Neurophilosophy article takes us right into the middle of one of these experiments performed by Penfield, and goes on to explain how his work became so influential in science and medicine.

Penfield was a pupil of Harvey Cushing, considered the founder of scientific neurosurgery, who was featured only last week on the same excellent blog.

Unlike Cushing though, who was reknowned for being a bit spiky, Penfield was widely considered to be a warm and friendly individual.

It’s probably the best article on Penfield you’re likely to find on the net, so well worth taking the opportunity of learning more about this key figure in our understanding of the brain.

Link to article ‘Wilder Penfield, Neural Cartographer’.
Link to previous Mind Hacks post on Wilder’s operation on his sister.

One thought on “Wilder Penfield – charting the brain’s unknown territory”

  1. Is true, the article of “Neurophilosophy” is excellent.
    Anyone knows who´s in the footsteps of Cushing, Penfield and the likes in contemporary neurosurgery?

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