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ERIC Number: EJ870459
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 23
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 98
ISSN: ISSN-1938-9809
The Scientific Method through the Lens of Neuroscience; From Willis to Broad
Burns, J. Lanier
Forum on Public Policy Online, v2009 n2 2009
In an age of unprecedented scientific achievement, I argue that the neurosciences are poised to transform our perceptions about life on earth, and that collaboration is needed to exploit a vast body of knowledge for humanity's benefit. The scientific method distinguishes science from the humanities and religion. It has evolved into a professional, specialized culture with a common language that has synthesized technological forces into an incomparable era in terms of power and potential to address persistent problems of life on earth. When Willis of Oxford initiated modern experimentation, ecclesial authorities held intellectuals accountable to traditional canons of belief. In our secularized age, science has ascended to dominance with its contributions to progress in virtually every field. I will develop this transition in three parts. First, modern experimentation on the brain emerged with Thomas Willis in the 17th Century. A conscientious Anglican, he postulated a "corporeal soul," so that he could pursue cranial research. He belonged to a gifted circle of scientifically minded scholars, the "Virtuosi," who assisted him with his "Cerebri anatome." He coined a number of neurological terms, moved research from the traditional humoral theory to a structural emphasis, and has been remembered for the arterial structure at the base of the brain, the "Circle of Willis." Second, the scientific method is briefly described as a foundation for understanding its development in neuroscience. Scientists now are necessarily professionals, who are credentialed and are engaged in scientific specialties. This section of the paper is sometimes referred to as the "heroic period" for its noteworthy pioneers. Their accomplishments paved the way for unprecedented growth in the neurosciences at the end of the 20th Century. Two illustrations demonstrate a preoccupation with brain (neuron doctrine) and mind (development of psychology) throughout the maturation stage. The neuron doctrine was formulated by creative use of cellular stains and improved microscopy: Ramon y Cajal, Golgi, Nissl, Weigert, Waldeyer, and Sherrington. Early options for the subject of psychology as science were consciousness (Wundt, James) and unconsciousness (Freud, Jung). In their wake were Gestalt (Wertheimer, Koffke, Kohler), behaviorism (Watson, Skinner), and mechanical intelligence. In the mid-20th century psychologists questioned a partitive approach to the mind and non-empirical theories. Governmental support for scientific research led to technology that dramatically expanded the neurosciences. The issues of the mind and neurophysiology have synthesized into the cognitive neurosciences, which are concerned with the biological substrates of mental processes and their behavioral manifestations. Third, how does the world marshal neuroscientific and genetic breakthroughs to serve its urgent problems? The collaborations of the past point to the need for an institutional hub to coordinate the resources at our disposal. The Broad Institute was founded in 2004 to transform medicine through molecular knowledge. Its goals are holistic, so it adds a bodily dimension to the traditional mind/brain focuses of neuroscience. This collaborative model is very promising for the kinds of challenges that we face today. The paper has presented some information to show us that the scientific method has created distinctive academic disciplines with a common language. Accordingly, a neuroscientist is a professional practitioner in a specialty that seeks to advance our understanding of mind/brain/body connections through research, medicine, and the affiliations that sponsor collaboration in the field. (Contains 76 footnotes.)
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Publication Type: Information Analyses; Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A