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Minds Behind the BrainA history of the pioneers and their discoveries$
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Stanley Finger

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195181821

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195181821.001.0001

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Thomas Willis: The Functional Organization of the Brain

Thomas Willis: The Functional Organization of the Brain

Chapter:
(p.85) 7 Thomas Willis: The Functional Organization of the Brain
Source:
Minds Behind the Brain
Author(s):

Stanley Finger (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195181821.003.0007

Thomas Willis was born in England twenty-five years after the birth of René Descartes. Willis can be considered the first of the new breed of medical physiologists who were more influenced by clinical and laboratory insights than by Graeco-Roman theories held sacred by their forefathers. Willis claimed that the brain can best be understood by envisioning different levels of function. He thought that those structures located higher in the brain must do those things that are unique to advanced organisms, whereas lower structures, such as the cerebellum, must be responsible for more elementary functions, those that vary little across vertebrates. Willis was accurate in rejecting the ventricles in favor of the cerebrum as the center for memory, cognition, volition, and imagination. He was also right to distinguish between the functions of the gray and white matter of the cerebral hemispheres. This chapter also looks at Willis's theory on the corpus striatum, the link between cerebellum and involuntary actions, and his work on psychiatry.

Keywords:   Thomas Willis, brain, psychiatry, cerebellum, ventricles, cerebral hemispheres, corpus striatum, involuntary actions

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