This account has many origins. Early in my career as a neurophysiologist I became curious about the discoveries made by Camillo Golgi and Santiago Ramo´n y Cajal and their contemporaries in the late nineteenth century, from which emerged the ‘‘neuron doctrine’’ as the basis for the eventual rise of modern neuroscience. Both the technical innovations and the strong intellects of that time established a high level for the founding of this new field.
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This history was covered in my Foundations of the Neuron Doctrine, published in 1991, on the centenary of the neuron doctrine. The centenary of the synapse was commemorated in an article in 1997 with my late colleague Sol Erulkar, as well as an exhibit in the rotunda of the Whitney/Cushing Medical Library at Yale. Meanwhile, the Society for Neuroscience was established, in 1971, and soon burgeoned with thousands of investigators from many disciplines. In 1985 I suggested to then President William Willis that this new field needed to take responsibility for its own history with a history committee.
The Committee on the History of Neuroscience was duly formed, in which I was joined by Ted Jones, Albert Aguayo, and Louise Marshall. With the Council’s support, we set up the Lecture on the History of Neuroscience at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. The first speakers included Andrew Huxley, Viktor Hamburger, and Francis Crick and many others who have played key roles in the early events chronicled here. As the society has grown to its present nearly 40,000 members, the lectures have remained among the most popular, with up to several thousand in the audience, belying the idea that the present generation has no interest in history. In 2002 I was invited to give one of those lectures. In preparing ‘‘The Origins of Modern Neuroscience’’ I took the opportunity to review the breadth and depth of our field. It was striking, first, how many different fields combined under the rubric of ‘‘neuroscience,’’ making it in my view the most multidisciplinary field in all of science. To grasp this vast range of knowledge, it was necessary to see it in terms of levels of organization, a concept I had discussed in an article on revising the neuron doctrine in 1972.
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