Introductory Neuroanatomy – Preface

As we get closer to the publication of our introductory volume of neuroanatomy, my colleague and principle author, Andrew Lautin, MD and I will be sharing our work on this blog. Here is the preface to our Introduction to Neuroanatomy.


Various strategies are available to study neuroanatomy. One strategy encourages the student to privilege a heroic initiator, (perhaps a genius) and an initiation date: Stephen Gould suggests how and why this might work:

“Our human passion for order and clean distinctions leads us to designate certain moments or events as ‘official beginnings’ for something new and discrete. Thus the signatures on a document define the birth of a nation on July 4th 1776, and the easily remembered 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (11/11/18) marks the armistice of a horrible war to end all wars”

Most introductory books on neuroanatomy contain some heroes, geniuses, and initiation dates: the historical time frame in which the hero brought forth the critical insight, the saltation in understanding. This is indeed the case in neuroscience where a plenum of heroic figures and initiation dates would fill a volume of its own.

However, on the other side of the compass, textbook treatments (science or otherwise) can and do pursue a strategy which emphasizes the accumulation of knowledge over time by many known and unknown figures; and no one genius or period is so highly privileged.

This later strategy memorialized (somewhat ironically) by Newton in his statement, ‘If I have seen further than others, it is standing on their shoulders…”

We write this preface to alert the reader that our textbook comes down on the side of a heroic initiator, Wilhelm His, and a heroic initiation date – the publication of his paper on a mechanical theory of neurodevelopment in 1874.

Great Man Theory – a 19th century idea according to which the impact on history can be attributed to a great man, or hero, their personality and ideas, first formulated by Thomas Carlisle, the Scottish writer, in the 1840s. The counter argument, proposed by Herbert Spencer was that the great man was a product of their society and the contributions of others.

We write this book to revivify His’s vision because it simply and powerfully describes the formation of the CNS in a manner similar to blowing up a rubber tube balloon. By examining and deploying His’s model, we will enable our reader to gain a substantive purchase of ownership of basic neuroanatomy.

2 thoughts on “Introductory Neuroanatomy – Preface

  1. All people, great or lowly have been shaped by society, people and environment. Though ‘great’ actions may fall to the blame or praise of one ‘great’ person, always in the background is others who shaped the reasoning and decisions towards that action.
    In my opinion anyway.


    • Thanks for your comment, J.F. I think that Carlisle was alluding to a manner of hero worship of a ‘Great Man’ (note the sexism of the time) who inspired others to think about things in a new way. Perhaps he meant ‘inspired leadership’. We certainly have had people like that in our own time who have changed the way we think and live.
      Thank you again.
      best regards,

      Liked by 1 person

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