Thursday, 10 May 2018

Broca's Brain

It was difficult to hold Broca's brain without wondering whether in some sense Broca was still in there---his wit, his skeptical mien, his abrupt gesticulations when he talked, his quiet and sentimental moments. Might there be preserved in the configuration of neurons before me a recollection of the triumphant moment when he argued before the combined medical faculties (and his father, overflowing with pride) on the origins of aphasia? A dinner with his friend Victor Hugo? A stroll on a moonlit autumn evening, his wife holding a pretty parasol, along the Quai Voltaire and the Pont Royal? Where do we go when we die? Is Paul Broca still there in his formalin-filled bottle? Perhaps the memory traces have decayed, although there is good evidence from modern brain investigations that a given memory is redundantly stored in many different places in the brain. Might it be possible at some future time, when neurophysiology has advanced substantially, to reconstruct the memories or insights of someone long dead? And would that be a good thing? It would be the ultimate breach of privacy. But it would also be a kind of practical immortality, because, especially for a man like Broca, our minds are clearly a major aspect of who we are.

SAGAN, Carl. Broca's brain: Reflections on the romance of science. Presidio Press, 1980.

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