A History Of The Brain

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
01A Hole In The Head20111107 (BBC7)
20141117 (BBC7)
20141118 (BBC7)
20160919 (BBC7)
20160920 (BBC7)

Dr Geoff Bunn reflects on trepanation at the start of his cultural history of the brain.

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of the most complex thing in the known universe. From Neolithic times to the present day, Geoff journeys through the many ideas of what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions. While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

In Episode 1: A Hole in the Head, the focus is on trepanation, the practice of drilling holes in the skull believing that such operations might correct physiological or spiritual problems. Trepanation reveals much about the understanding of the brain from Neolithic to recent times. The Ancient Egyptians, however, rarely trepanned, even though their Secret Book of the Physician, one of the oldest medical texts in the world, shows that they recognised how damage to the brain can paralyze limbs on opposite sides of the body. Believing the heart to be the core organ, they discarded the brain altogether at death, since it had no part to play in the afterlife.

The series is written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University. Actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes provide the voices of those who have written about the brain across the ages. Actor Hattie Morahan gives the Anatomy Lesson establishing the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the cranium and the meninges. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton. The producer is Marya Burgess.

02The Blood Of The Gladiators20111108 (BBC7)
20141118 (BBC7)
20141119 (BBC7)
20160920 (BBC7)
20160921 (BBC7)

Dr Geoff Bunn moves on to the debate in Ancient Greece as to the primacy of heart or brain

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads. From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

In Episode 2: The Blood of The Gladiators, the focus is Ancient Greek scholarship, with Hippocrates' astonishingly prescient belief in the brain as the chief organ of control and his debunking of the myth of the 'sacred disease' with his assertion that epilepsy was the result of natural causes. Yet the belief that a cure lay in the magical properties of blood persisted for centuries.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the cerebrum and cerebellum. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

03The Origin Of Common Sense20111109 (BBC7)
20141119 (BBC7)
20141120 (BBC7)
20160921 (BBC7)
20160922 (BBC7)

Dr Geoff Bunn on early Christian and Islamic contributions to understanding of the brain.

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads. From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

In Episode 3: The Origin of Common Sense, the focus is on Ancient Rome with Galen's 'animal spirits' gently inflating the ventricles and making thought possible, and on how early Christian scholarship placed the soul in the brain's ventricles. But with the Dark Ages, it was Islamic scholars who continued to explore the brain: Al Razi studied apoplexy or stroke, while Ibn Sina proposed that thoughts travelled through the brain in a predictable sequence and identified the 'common sense' in the front ventricle.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the ventricles. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

04Spirits In The Material World20111110 (BBC7)
20141120 (BBC7)
20141121 (BBC7)
20160922 (BBC7)
20160923 (BBC7)

Thomas Willis's pioneering attempt to correlate brain anatomy with function.

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads. From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

In Episode 4: Spirits in the Material World, the focus is on Thomas Willis, the 17th century physician after whom the 'Circle of Willis' - the circuit of arteries supplying blood to the brain - is named. Willis' Anatomy of the Brain and Nerves was a groundbreaking attempt to correlate brain anatomy with mental function. A friend of Christopher Wren, the humbly-born Willis was one of the founder members of the Royal Society. Yet his ideas were not universally accepted. The Cambridge philosopher, Henry More, considered the brain no more than 'a bowl of curds'', with no possibility that it could house reason.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the Circle of Willis and the tiny pineal gland. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

05The Spark Of Being20111111 (BBC7)
20141121 (BBC7)
20141122 (BBC7)
20160923 (BBC7)
20160924 (BBC7)

Dr Geoff Bunn examines the influence of the 18th-century preoccupation with electricity.

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads. From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

In Episode 5: The Spark of Being, the focus is on electricity and communication, within the brain and between the brain and the rest of the body. When John Walsh showed, in 1776, that an eel could generate electricity, it became possible that human consciousness also relied on sparks fizzing within the brain. Coming at a time when Benjamin Franklin - an acknowledged expert on electricity - was signing the Declaration of Independence which asserted that all men are created equal, it generated a new perspective on the workings of the brain; the old hierarchical model was discarded in favour of the doctrine of equipotentiality.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the Corpus Callosum. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

06The Beast Within2011111420141124 (BBC7)
20141125 (BBC7)
20160926 (BBC7)
20160927 (BBC7)

The influence of evolutionary theory, phrenology and a hole in Phineas Gage's head.

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads. From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

Episode 6: The Beast Within, focuses on localisation. Following a macabre accident when an iron rod shot through his head, Phineas Gage, a mild-mannered railway worker in Vermont, became capricious and profane. Meanwhile in France Paul Broca established that damage to another part of the brain caused aphasia. While phrenology had it that the brains of 'degenerates' differed from those of poets or scientists, British neurologist John Hughlings Jackson incorporated evolutionary ideas into his theory of brain function: higher centres with more recent evolutionary origins kept lower, more primitive ones in check.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the four lobes. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads.

From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history.

What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

Episode 6: The Beast Within, focuses on localisation.

Following a macabre accident when an iron rod shot through his head, Phineas Gage, a mild-mannered railway worker in Vermont, became capricious and profane.

Meanwhile in France Paul Broca established that damage to another part of the brain caused aphasia.

While phrenology had it that the brains of 'degenerates' differed from those of poets or scientists, British neurologist John Hughlings Jackson incorporated evolutionary ideas into his theory of brain function: higher centres with more recent evolutionary origins kept lower, more primitive ones in check.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the four lobes.

The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

07Mind The Gap2011111520141125 (BBC7)
20141126 (BBC7)
20160927 (BBC7)
20160928 (BBC7)

Dr Geoff Bunn discovers Freud's original contribution was via the microscope.

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads. From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

Episode 7: Mind the Gap, focuses on how the microscope allowed neurologists to detail the structure of brain cells. While Sigmund Freud, who started out as a neurologist, had hoped his gold chloride staining method would revolutionise brain research, it was in fact Camillo Golgi's La Reazione Nero, using silver nitrate, that enabled brain scientists to see the cell composition more clearly. Combined with the Gudden microtome, which provided extremely thin sections of brain tissue, neurologists began to explore how neurons are connected, with Charles Sherrington coining the term synapse to describe the gap between them.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the nerve cell or neuron. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

Dr Geoff Bunn on the synapse and the part Freud almost played in the history of the brain.

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads.

From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history.

What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

Episode 7: Mind the Gap, focuses on how the microscope allowed neurologists to detail the structure of brain cells.

While Sigmund Freud, who started out as a neurologist, had hoped his gold chloride staining method would revolutionise brain research, it was in fact Camillo Golgi's La Reazione Nero, using silver nitrate, that enabled brain scientists to see the cell composition more clearly.

Combined with the Gudden microtome, which provided extremely thin sections of brain tissue, neurologists began to explore how neurons are connected, with Charles Sherrington coining the term synapse to describe the gap between them.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the nerve cell or neuron.

The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

08The Agony And The Ecstasy2011111620141126 (BBC7)
20141127 (BBC7)
20160928 (BBC7)
20160929 (BBC7)

Dr Geoff Bunn on how chemical transmission became a fundamental concept in neuroscience.

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads. From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

Episode 8: The Agony and the Ecstasy, focuses on the collaborative work between Otto Loewi in Austria and Henry Dale in England. They established that communication within the brain is chemical and not electrical. Thanks to the work of many exiles from Nazism (and a leech smuggled out by one of them) the vital role of acetylcholine became known. This work laid the foundation for the neuropharmalogical gold rush of the 1950s, with the discovery of drugs to help those suffering from schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and adrenalin. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

Episode 8: The Agony and the Ecstasy, focuses on the collaborative work between Otto Loewi in Austria and Henry Dale in England.

They established that communication within the brain is chemical and not electrical.

Thanks to the work of many exiles from Nazism (and a leech smuggled out by one of them) the vital role of acetylcholine became known.

This work laid the foundation for the neuropharmalogical gold rush of the 1950s, with the discovery of drugs to help those suffering from schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.

09All Or Nothing2011111720141127 (BBC7)
20141128 (BBC7)
20160929 (BBC7)
20160930 (BBC7)

The impact of the electroencephalograph (EEG), which made brain waves visible.

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads. From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

Episode 9: All Or Nothing, focuses on the invention of the electroencephalograph, which made our brain waves visible. Invented by Hans Berger, one of its main proponents was the eccentric English robotics pioneer and neuroscientist, William Grey Walter. Until a near fatal accident, Walter was one of 15% of the population who can't produce the resting, alpha wave - only the active, beta wave. After the accident he could emit alpha waves. Meanwhile, at Cambridge, Edgar Adrian, no fan of the EEG, established the 'all or nothing' principle of nerve transmission to explain simple reflex actions.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the cerebral cortex. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

Episode 9: All Or Nothing, focuses on the invention of the electroencephalograph, which made our brain waves visible.

Invented by Hans Berger, one of its main proponents was the eccentric English robotics pioneer and neuroscientist, William Grey Walter.

Until a near fatal accident, Walter was one of 15% of the population who can't produce the resting, alpha wave - only the active, beta wave.

After the accident he could emit alpha waves.

Meanwhile, at Cambridge, Edgar Adrian, no fan of the EEG, established the 'all or nothing' principle of nerve transmission to explain simple reflex actions.

10 LASTEinstein's Brain2011111820141128 (BBC7)
20141129 (BBC7)
20160930 (BBC7)
20161001 (BBC7)

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads. From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

Episode 10: Einstein's Brain focuses on how advances in neurology have influenced our understanding of human's as 'neurochemical selves'. Examining the recent trend to explain every aspect of personality by underlying brain processes, Geoff Bunn highlights how disciplines from aesthetics to sociology have felt the impact of neuroscience. He acknowledges the benefits supplied by MRI scanning but points out the flaws in promoting an understanding of humanity based entirely on analysis of the brain. If the dissection of Einstein's brain were all we had to go on, we wouldn't know much about the famous physicist's life and character.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

Dr Geoff Bunn discusses the impact of neurology on how we understand ourselves today.

Episode 10 focuses on how advances in neurology have influenced our understanding of human's as 'neurochemical selves'.

Examining the recent trend to explain every aspect of personality by underlying brain processes, Geoff Bunn highlights how disciplines from aesthetics to sociology have felt the impact of neuroscience.

He acknowledges the benefits supplied by MRI scanning but points out the flaws in promoting an understanding of humanity based entirely on analysis of the brain.

If the dissection of Einstein's brain were all we had to go on, we wouldn't know much about the famous physicist's life and character.