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June 1997

Changing Interpretations of the Human Cortical Pattern

Author Affiliations

From the Epilepsy Research Group, Institute of Neurology, London, England.

Arch Neurol. 1997;54(6):769-775. doi:10.1001/archneur.1997.00550180075016

There has been a long historical succession of scientific descriptions of the cerebral cortex, usually accompanied by conflicting speculations on its function. It was noted by Thomas S. Kuhn that scientific descriptions are phrased in terms of the prevailing scientific paradigm and that disagreement about the interpretation of observed phenomena is what drives scientists to formulate new theories. The objectives of this study were to examine how the observation of Kuhn can help to gain insight into historical concepts of brain functioning from contemporary descriptions of the cortical gyrations, to examine how these historical concepts are relevant to neurology today, and to demonstrate how subjective these concepts are because they are based on interpretations that may be wrong. The method used here is examination of historical sources that give descriptions and illustrations of the cerebral cortex and contemporary theories of brain function. I have found that the emphases on cortical description have varied according to the prevailing contemporary paradigm. Debates about and between different paradigms mirror some themes in current neuroscience. In conclusion, the observations of Kuhn help to interpret descriptions to shed light on theories of cerebral cortical functioning, and they demonstrate that a scientific description is necessarily highly subjective (since it is phrased in terms of the current paradigm). The insights that can be gained are relevant to modern neurology and neuroscience research.