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A Short History of Neuroscience

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Although attempts to understand the physical bases for mental processes go back to the early Greek and Egyptian civilizations, modern electrophysiology began with the late eighteenth-century investigations by Luigi Galvani on the sciatic nerve-muscle preparation of the frog [8]. In 1791, this Italian physician reported that the muscle would twitch when the nerve was stimulated by a bimetallic contact and also by atmospheric electricity. Thus, Galvani proposed three types of electricity—chemical, atmospheric, and animal-with the latter being different from the two others, but his compatriot Alessandro Volta disagreed. In the attempt to show that Galvani's animal electricity was identical to that produced by bimetallic currents, Volta invented the battery, thereby launching the science of electricity in the historically convenient year of 1800. All of these early experiments were carefully repeated by the German physicist Frederick von Humboldt, confirming both Volta's view that the various forms of electricity are closely related and Galvani's observation that animal electricity has qualitatively distinctive features. Let us consider these differences.