Elson de Araújo Montagno, MD, PhD

In the XVII century, René Descartes, a Frenchman, affirmed that in the brain "was based" the soul, men's superior consciousness. The idea was ilustrated by a figure illustrating a young man with one of his feet very close to a bonfire. In the drawing, from this foot, can be distinguished a nervous bundle going through the leg, torso and neck, until reaching the head. There, in the brain, the fire's potentially hurting stimulus would reach conciousness. Heat or pain sensations would be perceived in consciousness, and not in the body.

Descartes decided that matter and spirit are two life essences that man could not put together. But his brain, yes. Maybe this is one of the major misteries! A few wisemen dared, and very recently, to postulate about conciousness and brain. Their nature, their interdependence, is studied today by many disciplines.

But it haven't been always like that, the beginning was of, in many times, personal or religious attempts. Turning back to Descartes: he forjed a dicotomy between brain and mind. This idea has stablished as one of the greatest enigmas of modern times, that still today persists with the cartesian dualism denomination. In the XIX century, Charles Darwin, an Englishman, shook the scientific world with his descriptions and theories about species origin. He demonstrated that we are linked, by a common kinship, to all live organisms. That we evolved from simian primates from the past.

This implies that today's human brain results from modifications that happened in these ancestors of ours, that were successful in front of the environmental adaptrion demands, in the slow but regular path of conquering survival and evolution.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal 
(1852 -1934) 
Source: Finger, 1994
It was only in the beginning of the XX century, that the brain really began to be revealed in its anatomical biochemical and functional dimensions, from Spanishman Ramon y Cajal gigantic work, who wrote "for while the brain is a mistery, the universe also will be".

Nervous system's evolution, development, structure and function are becoming known, through neurosciences, pure research scientific brances on animals nervous system, only kingdom where it exists. 

One of Cajal's many drawings of brain circuitry. Source: Bear et al., 1996

The nervous system study has been determining the medicine clinical point of view called neurology. It is obliged to investigate phatological phenomens of conciousness, like sleeping disturbs or temporal and spatial orientation defects, or sensorial perception and memory defects. The term conciousness has a wide use in culture, which employes it in many senses. It can mean to stay awake, to pay attention, to take knowledge or to have conviction. It is hard to point when has each term been coined.

We know, although, that Man had already poss of couciousness when he erected majestic civilizations in the past, in mother Africa, in the Orient and in Minor Asia. Modern brain studies have been determining cerebral areas related to being awake. We can "see" these areas by iluminating, consuming radioisotopes marked glucose, through PET (Positron Emission Tomography) computer exams, comparing with its respective metabolical activity and bioelectrical patterns, determined with other tests.

In all specific forms of attention, orientation, memory and ratiocination are exhibited. There is distinction between normal and anormal varieties of sleep and between counciousness altered states forms.

The "being swooned" is seen like the coma pathological state, uncounscious. There are many levels and forms of uncouscioness. Studies of epileptics patients have been contributing with informations about many aspects of consciousness and mind, like autoconsciousness, memory and language.

Conciousness study is thereby of practical interest in patients neurologial examination. A well known neurosurgeon expresses himself about his "work area": "The brain is the most complex and the most extraordinary biological system known. Compared to it, all science and engineering works are modest. Truly, the elents and relations that compose the continuum brain-mind interior are so fantastic and disturbing like the challenge posed by galaxies and its respective solar systems, in outer space. It is the human brain that must solve the misteries, not only from the universe but also its own.". We live now in the full brain decade, and we are all stimulated to participate in this discovery era Brain and mind's knowledge take us to conciousness technology. This opens to man unsuspectable dimensions on administration resouces on learning, making and loving capacities. This essay takes me to invite my eventual reader to search for this learning, with the human purpose of obtaining full exercise of love, life's manutention and evolution.

Elson de Araújo Montagno is a neurosurgeon, doctor in Medicine by Free University of Berlim, ex-visiting professor of Harvard University and ex-professor from College of Medical Sciences from the State University of Campinas.

Translation: Marcelo Sabbatini, Chemical Engineering, State University of Campinas, Brazil

Realization: Center for Biomedical Informatics
Copyright 1997 State University of Campinas