Darwin in Journal of the History of the Neurosciences

The May 2010 issue of the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences was devoted to Darwin:

Charles Darwin and Neuropsychology

The Charles Darwin Anniversary, C. U. M. (Chris) Smith, Pages 83 – 84:

No abstract

The Darwins and Wells: From Revolution to Evolution, Nicholas J. Wade, Pages 85 – 104:

In the biography of his grandfather (Erasmus Darwin), Charles Darwin hinted that his father (Robert Darwin) had received parental assistance in conducting and writing his medical thesis (which concerned afterimages). The experiments also involved visual vertigo, and they were elaborated by the senior Darwin in his Zoonomia, published in 1794. Erasmus Darwin’s interpretation was in terms of trying to pursue peripheral afterimages formed during rotation; it was at variance with one published two years earlier by William Charles Wells, who had investigated the visual consequences of body rotation when the body is subsequently still. Wells penned two retorts to the Darwins’ theory; although they were not accepted by Erasmus, he did devise a human centrifuge, models of which were employed in later studies of vertigo. Wells’s ideas on evolution were expressed in a paper delivered to the Royal Society (in 1813) but not published in its Transactions. Commenting on the case of a white woman, part of whose skin was black, he proposed a process of change that was akin to natural selection. His ideas were acknowledged by Charles Darwin in the fourth edition of On the Origin of Species.

Darwin’s Unsolved Problem: The Place of Consciousness in an Evolutionary World, C. U. M. (Chris) Smith, Pages 105 – 120:

“How does consciousness commence?” When Darwin set about developing his evolution theory on his return from the Beagle circumnavigation in 1836, he quickly realized that one major problem was, precisely, the existence of “mind” in a material world. This paper reviews his early struggles with this problem and pursues it into his later writings, especially the 1872 Expression of Emotions and in the work of his disciple G. J. Romanes. In the 1871 Descent of Man, Darwin admits defeat, writing that “In what manner the mental powers were first developed in the lowest organisms is as hopeless an enquiry as how life itself first originated. These are problems for the distant future” (p. 100). That “distant future” has now arrived and plausible answers to Darwin’s first question have been developed. The bicentennial celebrations provide an opportunity to ask again whether we are any closer to a solution of the second. They also provide an opportunity to emphasize Darwin’s lifelong interest in the relationships between mind, brain, and behavior.

Charles Darwin and the Evolution of Human Grammatical Systems, Hugh W. Buckingham; Sarah S. Christman, Pages 121 – 139:

Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories of animal communication were deeply embedded in a centuries-old model of association psychology, whose prodromes have most often been traced to the writings of Aristotle. His notions of frequency of occurrence of pairings have been passed down through the centuries and were a major ontological feature in the formation of associative connectivity. He focused on the associations of cause and effect, contiguity of sequential occurrence, and similarity among items. Cause and effect were often reduced to another type of contiguity relation, so that Aristotle is most often evoked as the originator of the associative bondings through similarity and contiguity, contiguity being the most powerful and frequent means of association. Contiguity eventually became the overriding mechanism for serial ordering of mental events in both perception and action. The notions of concatenation throughout the association psychology took the form of “trains” of events, both sensory and motor, in such a way that serial ordering came to be viewed as an item-by-item string of locally contiguous events. Modern developments in the mathematics of serial ordering have advanced in sophistication since the early and middle twentieth century, and new computational methods have allowed us to reevaluate the serial concatenative theories of Darwin and the associationists. These new models of serial order permit a closer comparative scrutiny between human and nonhuman. The present study considers Darwin’s insistence on a “degree” continuity between human and nonhuman animal serial ordering. We will consider a study of starling birdsongs and whether the serial ordering of those songs provides evidence that they have a syntax that at best differs only in degree and not in kind with the computations of human grammatical structures. We will argue that they, in fact, show no such thing.

Darwin’s “Natural Science of Babies” , Marjorie Lorch; Paula Hellal, Pages 140 – 157:

In 1877, the newly founded British journal Mind published two papers on child development. The earlier, by Hippolyte Taine, prompted the second article: an account of his own son’s development by the naturalist Charles Darwin. In its turn, Darwin’s paper, “A Biographical Sketch of an Infant,” influenced others. Diary studies similar to Taine’s and Darwin’s appeared in Mind from 1878. In addition, the medical profession started to consider normal child language acquisition as a comparison for the abnormal. Shortly before his death in 1882, Darwin continued with his theme, setting out a series of proposals for a program of research on child development with suggested methodology and interpretations. Darwin, whose interest in infants and the developing mind predated his 1877 paper by at least 40 years, sought to take the subject out of the nursery and into the scientific domain. The empirical study of the young child’s developing mental faculties was a source of evidence with important implications for his general evolutionary theory. The social status of children in England was the subject of considerable discussion around the time Darwin’s 1877 paper appeared. Evolutionary theory was still relatively new and fiercely debated, and an unprecedented level of interest was shown by the popular press in advance of the publication. This article considers the events surrounding the publication of Darwin’s article in Mind, the notebook of observations on Darwin’s children (1839-1856) that served as its basis, and the research that followed publication of “Biographical Sketch.” We discuss the impact this article, one of the first infant psychology studies in English, made on the scientific community in Britain in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Charles Darwin’s Emotional Expression “Experiment” and His Contribution to Modern Neuropharmacology, Peter J. Snyder; Rebecca Kaufman; John Harrison; Paul Maruff, Pages 158 – 170:

In the late 1860s and early 1870s, Darwin had corresponded with the French physician and physiologist, G. B. A. Duchenne, regarding Duchenne’s experimental manipulation of human facial expression of emotion, by applying Galvanic electrical stimulation directly to facial muscles. Duchenne had produced a set of over 60 photographic plates to illustrate his view that there are different muscles in the human face that are separately responsible for each individual emotion. Darwin studied this material very carefully and he received permission from Duchenne in 1871 to reproduce several of these images in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Darwin had doubted Duchenne’s view that there were individual muscle groups that mediate the expression of dozens of separable emotions, and he wondered whether there might instead be a fewer set of core emotions that are expressed with great stability worldwide and across cultures. Prompted by his doubts regarding the veracity of Duchenne’s model, Darwin conducted what may have been the first-ever single-blind study of the recognition of human facial expression of emotion. This single experiment was a little-known forerunner for an entire modern field of study with contemporary clinical relevance. Moreover, his specific question about cross-cultural recognition of the cardinal emotions in faces is a topic that is being actively studied (in the twenty-first century) with the hope of developing novel biomarkers to aid the discovery of new therapies for the treatment of schizophrenia, autism, and other neuropsychiatric diseases.

One thought on “Darwin in Journal of the History of the Neurosciences

  1. Pingback: Young links | Evolving Thoughts

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