BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time has a wonderful programme on the history of our knowledge about the nervous system which you can listen to streamed from the webpage or download as an mp3.
It’s a satisfyingly in-depth discussion that tracks first beliefs about the nervous system from ancient times through the renaissance into the modern age.
Scholars first described the nerves of the human body over two thousand years ago. For 1400 years it was believed that they were animated by ‘animal spirits’, mysterious powers which caused sensation and movement. In the eighteenth century scientists discovered that nerve fibres transmitted electrical impulses; it was not until the twentieth century that chemical agents – neurotransmitters – were first identified.
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