Scientists have long Dreamed of Exammmg how the brain works within a living body. The problem, though, was figuring out how to get inside the head without causing injury or even death. Doctors treating wounds from wars and accidents have been able to get glimpses of living brain tissue, but aside from poking or prodding, have had little to do with experimental observation.

Some early noninvasive attempts included phrenology, the pseudoscience developed in the early 19th century that measured the bumps on the outside of the skull as a means of analyzing the mental powers and characteristics. They stemmed from the theories of a German doctor, Franz Joseph Gall, who argued in the late 18th century that the separate faculties of the brain must manifest themselves in the shape of the overlying bone. Phrenology’s popularity peaked between the 1820s and the 1840s but soon waned as the century progressed.

Overall, at least half of all cases of dementia-formerly known as senility can be traced to Alzheimer’s disease.

Toward the end of the 19th century, a new method of probing the hidden workings of the brain arose, again in central Europe. Wilhelm Wundt, known as the founder of experimental psychology, created a laboratory in the mid-1870s in Leipzig to perform research into psychology. The word derives from the Greek psyche, meaning “mind” or “soul.” Wundt considered his research a way to get at the workings of the mind, which many still considered to be separate from the tissue of the brain.

An angio-MRI of a 27-year-old woman reveals the arteries that provide oxygen to her brain.
An angio-MRI of a 27-year-old woman reveals the arteries that provide oxygen to her brain.

In particular, Wundt aimed to examine the elements that made up consciousness and explain how they worked together to create the mind. Wundt concentrated on stimulus-response experiments, as he considered sensation the contact point between the external, physical world and the inner, psychological world. He recorded when and how sensations entered consciousness, including such mundane facts as whether one musical tone sounded higher or lower than another one did.

A contemporary of Wundt’s, the American William James, also took up psychology as a tool to probe the mind. In his famous 1890 textbook The Principles of Psychology, James described processes including the sense of self, memory, movement, and sensation.

Your brain uses about 12 watts of ” power-a fraction of the energy of a household lightbulb.

Assessing the brain’s performance through intelligence testing was another way science attempted to access the living brain. In the 1900s, French psychologist Alfred Binet created the first IQ test as a way to measure intelligence. That test, designed to see which French schoolchildren needed special assistance, became the genesis of all IQ tests that followed.

Meanwhile, in Austria, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology, turned his interest in neurology into the study of the workings of the brain and the ways in which they affect behavior. He predicted, correctly, that someday the study of the physical workings of the brain would dovetail with his observations about unconscious drives.

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