Plastic Maps: The New Brain Cartographies of the 21th-Century Neurosciences

From Phrenological Heads to Connectomics

In: Nuncius
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  • 1 Tor Vergata University of Rome

Ever since the phrenological heads of the early 19th century, maps have translated into images our ideas, theories and models of the brain, making this organ at one and the same time scientific object and representation. Brain maps have always served as gateways for navigating and visualizing neuroscientific knowledge, and over time many different maps have been produced – firstly as tools to “read” and analyse the cerebral territory, then as instruments to produce new models of the brain. Over the last 150 years brain cartography has evolved from a way of identifying brain regions and localizing them for clinical use to an anatomical framework onto which information about local properties and functions can be integrated to provide a view of the brain’s structural and functional architecture. In this paper a historical and epistemological consideration of the topic is offered as a contribution to the understanding of contemporary brain mapping, based on the assumption that the brain continuously rewires itself in relation to individual experience.

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