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Historically speaking, this misconception used to exist, right? Somewhat like Copernican heliocentrism, no? When (and, if you wish, how) did this folk concept regarding the biological basis of cognition come to be revised?

When was it recognized that thinking occurs in the brain and not in the heart?

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, the misconception existed. Egyptians demonstrate ignorance of the brain. It was one of the organs they didn't preserve; they didn't think it would be useful in the afterlife. The reason the heart got so much attention (and blood) is that you can see veins going through the whole body with your eyes and you can see they all connect to the heart. You can't see nerves going through the whole body so easily. $\endgroup$ – Keegan Keplinger Feb 12 '14 at 14:38
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Alcmaeon of Croton, who lived in the late 6th and early 5th century B.C., is said to have been the first to discover the optical and other sensory nerves. He believed that the nerves were hollow and conducted the sensation to the brain. Alcmaion saw the brain as the organ of perception, memory, thought and the control of action.

The Wikipedia article on the History of Neuroscience gives some more information on the later developments of this view.


Source:

  • Lloyd, G. (1975). Alcmeon and the early history of dissection. Sudhoffs Archiv, 59, 113–47.
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  • $\begingroup$ Earlier than I would've guessed! Nice work. $\endgroup$ – Nick Stauner Feb 13 '14 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ Well, obviously Alcmaeon's ideas did not penetrate to all corners of the world immediately, but I found the tale of how some of us have come to believe in it (while even today there are those who still believe other parts of the body to be the centers of cognition or, a thought popular among scientists, at least contribute to it, e.g. bbc.co.uk/news/health-18779997) too long and convoluted to tell here. So while this answer may be correct, it isn't nearly complete enough. $\endgroup$ – user3116 Feb 13 '14 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is historic cherry-picking; if you dig enough among the Greeks you will find almost any belief (most prominent example of this is saying that the Greeks predicted atomic theory because of Democritus). The question becomes (as you point out in the comments), did any large body subscribe to this belief beyond a few disciples? I would argue that they didn't, because in the 3rd century BC, Aristotle was still promoting the brain as refrigerator and had much more historic significance than Alcmaeon. $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Feb 14 '14 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ From Wikipedia: "Hippocrates, believed the brain to be the seat of intelligence (based, among others before him, on Alcmaeon's work)." There was a phase where several authorities, among them Hippocrates, subscribed to the same belief. Of course these were only beliefs, and others believed other parts of the human body to be the center of cognition, but scientific insight is not a momentary revolution, as it is usually painted in popular media, but a slow process that happens over centuries. So likely Democritus did lay the foundation for later researchers to start looking in the right place. $\endgroup$ – user3116 Feb 14 '14 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ You are right, of course, Artem, but if you keep your sceptic distance, today we still don't know if cognition happens in the brain. It might well happen in the incorporeal soul, with the brain being the receiver for these thoughts. Well, I don't actually believe that, but there is no proof to contradict this. All we know is that somehow the brain has to do with cognition, but not really much more. $\endgroup$ – user3116 Feb 14 '14 at 21:30

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