Benjamin Franklin and the neurosciences

Stanley FINGER
Department of Psychology, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
sfinger AT

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), who is better known in other fields, especially colonial politics and international diplomacy, was an early, major contributor to the neurosciences from the New World. Among his accomplishments are: experiments on medical electricity as a possible cure for the palsies and hysteria; the first descriptions of how electricity affecting the brain can cause a specific type of amnesia; seeing potential in the new idea that cranial shocks might provide a cure for melancholia; showing that the cures performed by the Mesmerists to remove obstructions, including nerve blockages, rest on gullibility and suggestion, and recognizing the dangers, including those to the nerves, posed by exposure to lead. Franklinís neuroscience was firmly based on experiments, careful observations, and hard data --- and finding clinical relevance for new discoveries was always on his mind.

Ottorino Rossi Award Lecture
Wednesday, 21 June 2006, 6.10 - 7.00 pm

11th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Pavia, Italy, 2006