The Hall

Wilder Penfield 1891–1976

I am an explorer, but unlike my predecessors who used compasses and canoes to discover unknown lands, I used a scalpel and a small electrode to explore and map the human brain. Throughout my career I was driven by the central question that has obsessed both scientists and philosophers for hundreds of years. Are mind and body one? Can the mind – thinking, reasoning, imagination – be explained by the functions of the brain?

As a doctor, my first concern was always for my patients – to relieve the terrible suffering caused by diseases such as epilepsy. I found that by stimulating the exposed brain of a conscious patient with a small electrical current, the patient could tell me what they were feeling or seeing, and through this we could isolate the damaged part of the brain. I developed treatments for epilepsy based on this knowledge.

But the procedure also opened a window to the mind, giving us for the first time a glimpse of how dreaming occurs, how memory works, and where speech and speech comprehension reside. You can visit my operating room at the Montreal Neurological Institute if you would like to see for yourself. We have a patient prepped in room #3, and we are ready to begin examining his brain.

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