A Hole in the Head
Neuroscientist Charles Gross has been interested in the history of his field since his days as an undergraduate. A Hole in the Head is the second collection of essays in which he illuminates the study of the brain with fascinating episodes from the past. This volume’s tales range from the history of trepanation (drilling a hole in the skull) to neurosurgery as painted by Hieronymus Bosch to the discovery that bats navigate using echolocation.
The emphasis is on blind alleys and errors as well as triumphs and discoveries, with ancient practices connected to recent developments and controversies. Gross first reaches back into the beginnings of neuroscience, then takes up the interaction of art and neuroscience, exploring, among other things, Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson” paintings, and finally, examines discoveries by scientists whose work was scorned in their own time but proven correct in later eras.
About the Author
Charles G. Gross, a neuroscientist specializing in vision and the functions of the cerebral cortex, is Professor of Psychology at Princeton University. He is the author of Brain, Vision, Memory: Tales in the History of Neuroscience (MIT Press, 1998).
"Readers not familiar with Gross' other works should read them along with the entertaining, stimulating, and informative chapters in A Hole in the Head."
—Helen Bynum, The Journal of the American Medical Association
“A delight and a treasure-trove. As expected from Charles Gross’s earlier historical writings, this is a marvelous temporal travelogue, from the Greeks to contemporary scientists, and with many surprises along the way. All of it is invaluable to the historian of neuroscience, but it also includes closely-argued discussion of some contemporary issues. Of special interest is the section on scientists who were ‘before their time,’ some of whom are still waiting for their time in the spotlight. A hole-in-one several times over.”
—Larry Weiskrantz, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Oxford
"The primal and insatiable quest of the human mind to understand itself has produced its share of quacks and geniuses, who cast long shadows, and populate the pages of Charlie Gross' delightfully engaging essays. We see that explanations for things once beyond our comprehensionthe nature of sight or the control of movementoften possess a religious quality that seems bewildering in hindsight. Gross helps us to view such bizarre explanations, curious medical practices and astonishing events not with scorn and condescension, but with an appreciation of their soundness relative to the broader scientific, social and political forces of the day. And therein lies an indispensable lesson for modern neuroscience."
—Tom Albright, Professor and Director Vision Center Laboratory, Salk Institute
"Charles Gross, who is himself one of the great pioneers in neuroscience, tells the fascinating stories of people throughout history whose ideas and practices concerning the mind and brain were well ahead of their time. Gross's stories are not dispassionate historical accounts, but rather are enriched by a clear sense of admiration, or scorn, for the individuals who bravely bucked the establishment, or clung to the status quo. Be prepared for a marvelous view of history through a hole in the head."
—Robert Desimone, Director, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, MIT