This is largely a work in progress, when I finish a lecture I’ll make a blog post about it. Otherwise check back to see how the story evolves. All the history prior to 2015 is accurate.

Lecture 1: Ancient Neuroscience

“Hello class, this is Neuroscience 155 the History of Neuroscience for the fall semester of 2047. Hopefully you are all in the right class. If you’re lost and aren’t suppose to be here now is your last chance of escape. Or don’t leave. I personally find my class very interesting.” The polite laughter of freshman fills the 500 seat lecture hall. “I’m going to begin this class with the history of neuroscience, how our understanding of the nervous system has changed over time, the studies which have had the greatest impact and take you to our modern day understanding of the nervous system and maybe touch on what may be coming in the near future. Before I begin please make sure you download the syllabus and all the course material in high fidelity and keep them in uncompressed storage until the final exam. It is only fifteen hundred gigabytes in total so no one should be complaining about buying more memory for this class. I take it you have all shut down or at least put Entertainment and Social on sleep, if you haven’t yet please do so now.” A handful of students continue to watch the skinny white haired woman at the front of class but most shut their eyes to access their Synaptus control panel. Ten seconds go by and nearly every student has their eyes open. A girl in the front row is still on her Synaptus, oblivious that some of her classmates are starting to notice she is the one holding them all up.

“Umm…”

The professor looks at the girls face and her student information is retrieved from the university’s database.

“Rachel Cajal, please finish up there it should not take this long to put to sleep two modules.”

The girl’s green eyes pop open and her cheeks become flush, “Oh sorry professor, my dad is stationed on Europa and I had a new message from him.” Ouu’s, aww’s, and giggles fill the room. Her cheeks radiate.

“Oh! You must be John Cajal’s daughter!” The professor says with a giddy smile on her face. “Fantastic. Pleasure to have you in my class Rachel,” The professor’s eyes flutter, “Majoring in Neuromorphic engineering huh? Didn’t want to follow in your father’s steps with Planetary Engineering?”

Rachel sinks in her seat as the entire class turns their gaze to her and begins snapping pictures.

The professor sternly broadcasts to the entire room, “Class! Class! Please show Rachel some respect! None of you better have Social on right now anyways; do not turn it back on to share those pictures” She clicks off her voice transponder as she walks over to Rachael’s seat with an awkward apologetic smile, “Sorry Rachael this is my fault. I’m just a big fan of space exploration and your father’s work. I promise nothing like this will happen again.” The professor turns her transponder back on and makes her way back to the podium at the front of the room.

“Alright alright let’s get things moving here. Where… Yes alright now please scan through the syllabus and add each assignment and exam to your calendar and be sure it is saved. I don’t want to hear any of you telling me your doc scanner failed to extract and save the exam dates. You know, back when I went to University the professor would take the entire first class period just to go over the syllabus. Of course back then the most portable device we had was just a phone. We thought a 250 person contact list and 104MHz processor in our hands were amazing!” Amongst the blank stares a few chuckles flittered out. “Oh… hardly any of you know what processor clock speed is… Ah well, we will talk all about that in a future lecture about the Human Brain Project we will cover the transition from silicon processors to bio processors.”

“Anyways, I hope by now you all have the important dates saved in your calendars. Shall we begin?” The professor taps a button on the podium, the room lights dim and her wrinkled face is illuminated by the podium’s built in screen. The 90 foot wide Microsoft Surface Hub turns on and shows an introductory slide. “Of yes of course, my name is Professor Hillman. Just a little about myself. I’ve been teaching now for nearly 35 years and been doing research into self control and motivation for over 40 years. I’ve been here at the university for about ten years and prior to that I was at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Now this first lecture will go over the history of neuroscience in ancient civilizations and how past cultures and their philosophers thought about the brain.”

“What we know of the past comes from the clues left by our ancestors, and the Egyptians were most excellent at leaving very detailed clues. The first known documentation of the brain comes from the Sir Edwin Smith surgical papyrus. It is debated if the papyrus we have today is a copy of an even older record from 3000BC or if it the is the original, nonetheless we know the Sir Edwin Smith’s papyrus was from around 1700BC. This papyrus was quite remarkable and was the first ever surgical treatise known to exist. It was written by Egyptian doctors who documented a list of 48 ailments, from head to toe, their symptoms, how to treat them, and the expected outlook.

The first nine cases of the papyrus have to do with skull injuries, and quite brutal ones at that. Most depict smashed skulls in which the underlying tissue or brain is exposed. What do you guys think of treating, and I quote, ‘ a man having a wound in his head, while his wound does not have two lips, penetrating to the bone of his skull’ by binding ‘it with fresh meat the first day (and) treat afterwards with grease, honey (and) lint every day until he recovers’?

A collective, disgusted “euuurgh” fills the room. In the third row a dark haired boy in a University hoody raises his hand, “Wait so these are suppose to be actual treatments, wouldn’t raw meat result in a horrible infection and lead to death? Why would this be written down to practice if the out come would easily be seen and be detrimental?”

Manuka Flower
Manuka Flower

Dr. Hillman perks up an eyebrow, “well, since you bring it up, this actually may not be the worst treatment in the world. Of course the raw meat is a bit odd and likely did little but keep the wound moist, honey is very well documented to be antimicrobial. Honey contains glucose oxidase that is synthesized by the bees using catalases from the flower’s pollen. This glucose oxidase then oxidizes glucose and produces hydrogen peroxide, which is antimicrobial. Honey is also quite acidic and can be acidic enough to inhibit microbe activity. And, sorry I know I’m rambling, but New Zealand and Australia have honey called Manuka honey due to the Manuka trees the bees collect pollen from. This honey is still antimicrobial even without glucose oxidase due to the methyl syringate and methylglyoxal made by the Manuka trees and collected by the bees.” Dr. Hillman looks out over the class and sees a few mouths gaped open in surprise. A few are furiously typing on the keyboards in front of them. “Oh don’t worry none of that will need to be remembered, lets get back to Sir Edwin Smith’s papyrus. Although today we may think of these treatments as odd they may have actually had some merit for their time. We aren’t focused here on treatments though, what is more striking is the anatomy and pathologies the ancient Egyptians noted on their surgical treatise.”

“Quite poetically, though I cannot imagine the state of the man who had this wound, Egyptian physicians note the gyri and sulci, the folds of the cortex, as ‘those corrugations which form in molten copper’. They even describe palpating the pulse of underlying blood vessels as a ‘throbbing and fluttering’. Finally, they describe the dura mater, the tough tissue enveloping the brain, and the cerebrospinal fluid in which the brain floats. Though the Egyptian medical men where renowned, by the Greeks anyways, for their medicinal and surgical knowledge, this case of a exposed brain was deemed untreatable. Now, you may think this would be odd. They are treating all sorts of head wounds with a vast array of… medicines, but they will not bother treating one such as an exposed brain. Though the Egyptians are the first to describe the brain, they were not yet the first to know how important it was. To the Egyptians it was the heart that was the most important organ. The heart was the source of human wisdom, emotion, memory, personality, and housed the soul. Infamously the ancient Egyptians are known for taking out the brain of their dead in order to mummify them with a tool made of bamboo. They would create a hole in the skull through the nasal cavity and mostly liquefy and drain out the brain.”

“Also interesting in the ailments of Sir Edwin Smith’s papyrus are the symptom descriptions. They documented injuries to the head, even if the skull was intact, could result in overt disorders. One case speaks of a brain injury which results in the patient losing his ability to walk and move his arm as well as properly control his eye. Curiously, the medicine man writing this took the time to note the paralysis was on the side of the body opposite the head injury. This can happen when the skull is hit so hard the brain smashes into the skull opposite the wound. Since, in general, it is the contralateral hemisphere that controls a side of the body, this injury and the symptoms that follow make sense to us. But, did the ancient Egyptian doctor know this was the case as well? Did they know the brain controlled movement? We can’t say for sure. And finally to wrap this up, again on this papyrus there is a case in which the temple of the skull has been smashed and the patient can no longer speak. This is the first documented case of aphasia which are a wide array of language impairments do to brain injuries. Aphasia used to be quite a large problem before today’s brain machine interfaces, but more on those in a different class.”