History of Neurophysiology

The subject of neurophyisology is one that has been studied since around 4,000 BC. Here is a summary of the development of the study of mind and body.

In the early years of the subject being studied the main focus was on the use and the impact of natural sedatives like alcohol or poppy seeds. Around 1700 BC the Edwin Smith papyrus was written and that contains all the knowledge that the Ancient Egyptians held on the subject of the nervous system. This papyrus contained studies of differing injuries to the human body, especially head injuries. Around 460 BC the Greek Hippocrates started to study epilepsy and concluded it was a condition related to the brain. Hippocrates also concluded that sensation was felt and processed in the brain. Furthermore Hippocrates was not on his own among the Ancient Greeks in arguing that reducing stress and finding ways to relax patients was the best way to treat mental illnesses. By 280 BC the theory was put forward by Erasistratus of Chios that the mind was made up of different divisions and that those divisions were vital in how people felt things.

Contrary to Aristotle who had believed that feelings came from the heart, in 177 BC, Galen argued that feelings came from the brain. By 100 CE Marinus had discovered the optic chiasm, which is where the brian processes what it sees. Around 1000 Al-Zahrawi, living in Muslim controlled Spain wrote a book about all known treatments for physical and mental conditions. In 1216, Mondico de Luzzi authored the first textbook in Europe on human antimony. The first hospital specializing in mental illnesses that of St Mary of Bethlehem (or Bedlam as the British called it) was opened in 1402.

Leonardo da Vinci who made exclusive studies of the human body, studied the ventricle system in 1504.

In 1536 Nicolo Massa wrote a book about how diseases on the nervous system, syphilis in particular. Six years later the term physiology was used for the first time by Jean Farnel. In 1543 the highly influential book Da Humani Corporis Vesali fabrica was published by Andreas Vesalius and it radically how doctors and scientists understood the human body. In 1549, Jason Pratensis wrote a book that summarized all known ideas about the human brain. The following year Vesalius wrote about brain fluids and Bartolomeo Eustachi shared details of how he had discovered the optic nerve.

Further discoveries about the human mind continued to be made from the 17th century onwards. The impact of grief on mental health was looked at by Robert Burton in 1621 and he concluded that grief led to depression. In 1649 Descartes was mistaken in stating which part of the brain thoughts were made. In 1658 a study by Wepfer showed that strokes were caused by broken blood vessels.

Between 1749 and 1849 there were further marked increases in the understanding and the treatment of mental illnesses. Asylums were developed further, and some of the more progressive ones actually cared for patients properly. Electro compulsive treatment was developed as early as 1752 and it is still used in very controlled situations today. All of these developments were important in helping medical professionals understanding how the brain works and how it can be treated to help those suffering from mental illness conditions.