Richard Bergland

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Richard M. Bergland (1932 - 2007) [1] was an author, administrator, neurosurgeon and neuroscientist. He was chief of neurosurgery at Beth Israel Hospital of New York. He was also a Van Wagenen Scholar, a Markle Scholar and Macy Faculty Scholar and served academic appointments at Oxford, Harvard, Cornell and Columbia, among others.


  • Whatever the cerebellum is doing, it’s doing a lot of it.
    • As quoted by Christopher Bergland "How is the Cerebellum Linked to Autism Spectrum Disorders?" Psychology Today (Sept 2013) referring to the cerebellum's containing 50% of the brain's neurons in only 10% of the volume
  • Amending your own mind is very, very satisfying… amending other people's minds is a fruitless, unsatisfying effort.
    • As quoted in "Van Wagenen Fellowship Richard M. Bergland 1968 Oxford University," American Association of Neurological Surgeons (2004)
  • Neurosurgery can be learned... neurosurgery cannot be taught.
    • As quoted in "Van Wagenen Fellowship Richard M. Bergland 1968 Oxford University," American Association of Neurological Surgeons (2004)

The Fabric of Mind (1985)[edit]

  • Not all ideas of the ideas that pass from one brain to another brain... are good ideas; some are mistakes. These I call 'mismemes'.
  • The existing paradigm about the brain has ceased to function adequately.
  • The belief that electricity, the fourth of the modern forces, is the stuff of thought has permeated brain science since the late 1700s. ...while the brain was regarded as 'dry', all other organs were conceived as 'wet'. Doubtless the study of brain electricity helped in understanding the internal circuits of the brain, but it solved few problems of brain disease.
  • Brain/body relationships might depend upon a chorus of individual hormones... which are released together to sing hormonal harmonies to the body.
  • The double-think of modern science—'Molecules shape the body, but electricity shapes the mind'—ends abruptly with the realization that regulatory hormones control both brain and body functions.
  • Pattern recognition is the sine qua non of the genetic code... pattern recognition underlies all immunology... pattern recognition is basic to all the hormone/hormone receptor interactions of cell regulation; and pattern recognition is the highest form of thought. It is the synchrony, the synergism and the spatial juxtaposition of whirling hormonal forces that give life to the human soul. Is this molecular maelstrom divine? I think so: it creates life, it is ubiquitous, it cannot be broken apart, it cannot be contained, it cannot be copied, it is eternal.
  • Regulatory messages or hormones flow from specific regions of the brain to specific glands within 'hollow' nerve fibres exactly as Erasistratus, Galen and Descartes had taught.
  • The science of neuroendocrinology—the brain-to-pituitary link that was discerned by [Joe] Hinsey, [George] Wislocki, du Vigneaud, and [Geoffrey] Harris—is dependent upon hormones flowing within nerve axons. This phenomenon, axonal flow, was first noted by Ernst and Barta Scharrer... For many decades it was assumed that axonal flow was always 'down'... away from the brain.
  • Molecules move not only from the brain to the endocrine system but also from the endocrine system, indeed, from all parts of the body to the brain.
  • Every organ is a hormone-producing gland.
  • Central to the paradigm that the mind is modulated by hormones is the recognition that the stuff of thought is not caged in the brain but is scattered all over the body; regulatory hormones are ubiquitous.
  • Gone are the days when scientists believed one hormone was made by one gland. Insulin, for example... is made in other surprising places, like the brain, and even by tiny one-cell organisms without a pancreas.
  • The neatly integrated paradigm for brain water... was derived from experiments done by Walter Dandy... Most brain scientists and brain physicians honour the Dandy paradigm as a navigator honours the North Star. ...yet new scientific evidence makes it difficult, if not impossible, to accept... It is a mismeme; the experimental facts no longer allow it to be 'true', and we need a paradigm switch.
  • Dandy's experiments were done in the fast lane of science... performed with no control animals, with no record of the number of animals operated on, with no regard for inter-species variability, with no record of the time base, with no histological correlation, with no attempt to quantify the differences and with no involvement with a neutral scientist.
  • If the powerful hormone vasopressin, or ADH, is injected into the blood, the body will retain water. If ADH is injected into the ventricle the opposite happens: the body loses water.
  • Those at the top in brain science gained their pedestals by knowing more and more about less and less.
  • Few would have predicted that the discovery of the circulation of the blood would have changed the way philosophers view the world, theologians conceive of God, or astronomers look at the stars, yet all of that happened.
  • If the question, 'Why is the heart hollow?', had a profound impact on all intellectual disciplines, would you expect any less of the question, 'Why is the brain hollow?'
  • In the past decade, as regulating hormones have been found throughout the body, the soul has lost its home. It is scattered everywhere—in the brain, the gut, the ovary, the pituitary and the adrenal; if paracrinologists are correct, every cell contains the well-chiselled molecules that give life to the soul and guidance to the mind.
  • It would be easier... if all animals spoke the same endocrine language, for then correlations made in the laboratory could be quickly moved to the bedside. Unfortunately, such is not the case. The hormone prolactin, for example, has at least seventy-eight different functions in seventy-eight different species
  • The brain has all the characteristics of a gland except one—leaky capillaries—the sturdy brain capillaries are collectively called the 'blood-brain-barrier'. This barrier can easily be demonstrated by injecting a blue dye into an animal; every other organ (except the testicle) turns blue, but the blood-brain barrier keeps the brain as white as snow.
  • As hormonal amplification is the hallmark of all of the brain-to-gland relationships of neuroendocrinology, hormonal deamplification is the hallmark of all gland-to-brain relationships of endocrine neurology. This is the fundamental difference between the two sciences.
  • Some kinds of hormones, the 'steroids', pass readily into the brain, but the 'peptide' hormones produced by the pituitary, the gut, and any other glands do not easily pass through the walls of brain capillaries.
  • The brain remains silently separated from the noisy endocrine consequences.
  • The measurement of hormones in the bloodstream of patients will not reflect the endocrine activity of the brain.
  • The greatest array of brain hormones is found in the ventricle, not in the spinal fluid.
  • In decades to come ventricular catheterization performed to measure hormone concentrations will become as routine as the measurement of lumbar 'pressure' is today.
  • The ventricles of the human brain... are filled with hormones, and until the hormones swimming in these oceans are dredged out, countless millions of our fellows will remain with brain illnesses that can be neither understood nor treated. Many of their hormone-hungry brains may be fixed as easily as hormone-hungry bodies are fixed with thyroid hormone, insulin, oestrogen and testosterone, but that work cannot begin until cause and effect relationships between brain hormones and brain diseases have been established.
  • Miracles of inner healing are everyday occurrences.
  • The brain is a gland of unity: the brain is one with the body.
  • Neurosurgeons perform ventricular taps with great frequency. …While this is not something to be done lightly, the risks are no greater than those for cardiac catheterization.
  • Twenty years from now, the disease, 'presenile dementia' will be understood as well as diabetes is today.
  • If a 'memory peptide' could be found to be deficient in patients with dementia, these patients could be treated in the same way that patients with diabetes are treated with insulin.
  • Scientists have mastered the techniques of hormone analysis, measurement and manufacture. What is lacking is the correlation between a specific brain disease and a specific brain hormone. …these correlations can only come from a medical team of co-operating physicians.
  • Animal experiments have confirmed the necessity of delivering hormones into the ventricle: the powerful hormone endorphin does not change behaviour if it is given intravenously; vasopressin will improve memory in animals only if it given into the ventricles; insulin given through the bloodstream does not control appetite but it is the best hormone for such control if given into the brain; and bombesin... only stops stomach ulceration if given into the brain.
  • Genetic engineers are powerless in all of this without some cooperative effort from people working in allied fields.
  • Already in animals, some gland-like cells have been transplanted from the adrenal gland into the brain, where they not only survive but continue their secretions.
  • By placing… cell-containing soup in bullet-shaped cell cages formed out of permeable plastics, a single population of cells can be introduced into the brain. ...the hormones that are produced by the cells make their way... into the brain. ...'artificial glands' …with no fear of cell migration.
  • As it is possible that the memory loss of senile dementia may stem from a deficiency of 'memory peptide', obesity may result from a deficiency of either bombesin, somatostatin, cholecystokinen, gastrin, or insulin.
  • Despite the evidence that ventricular hormones do not make their way out of the ventricle, the presence of large ventricles in many schizophrenic patients, and the ability of two-dimensional gels to provide a profile of peptides in the ventricle, not a single catheter has been placed into the ventricle of a schizophrenic patient to measure the peptides in the ventricle. ...There is no animal model for this disease, the answer can only come from human studies.
  • Many endocrine diseases of the body entail the production of 'crooked molecules'—molecules that are made in the wrong way by the cell. It is fairly common for a cancer cell to begin the production of a 'crooked' hormone that evokes dramatic changes in other body functions.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, is the best therapy for unipolar depression that exists. ...they have found that the smile will return to the face of the patient on the very same day that cortisol dynamics return to normal.
  • During electroconvulsive therapy the blood-brain barrier is opened and during the time that it remains open there are heroically high levels of circulating pituitary hormones. Thus there is every reason to believe that... it delivers hormones to the brain...
  • Despite the effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy... it may cause long-lasting problems with short-term memory. …Yet despite the protests, the ability of cortisol studies to identify patients who will benefit from ECT guarantees that more patients will receive it.
  • Patients with uncontrolled epilepsy have an evaluation that usually begins with electrical studies of the surface of the brain. …A hole is drilled in the skull, and electrical measurements made from within the depths of the brain. A large flap of the skull is then lifted up, electrodes placed on the surface of the brain, and the flap sewn back into place so that more electrical studies can be done. The risks... are far greater than those associated with the ventricular taps needed for hormone studies. …If the team of doctors.. can help... areas of the brain that are sending 'bad' signals would be identified and removed... large portions of the brain might be taken away.
  • Somehow the same nurses, physicians, administrators and legal ombudsmen who prevented the study of the ventricular fluid of a patient with senile dementia, or obesity, or depression, or schizophrenia, because of the risks, will encourage diagnostic tests and therapy for patients with epilepsy that are far more destructive and immutable than the measurement and manipulation of hormones in the ventricle.
  • The hormonal genies that have lived unnoticed in the brain since humankind began have escaped; there is no way that they can be put back.
  • Physicians and scientists will measure brain hormones—in ventricular fluid and elsewhere—will link these to specific diseases, and will devise space-age techniques to restock the mind's hormonal pantries. The only question is, 'When?'

Quotes about Bergland[edit]

  • As a surgeon and scientist, my father was always a visionary and a renegade. Being mentored by legends of neuroscience gave my father both the credibility and desire to push new boundaries.
    • Christopher Bergland "How is the Cerebellum Linked to Autism Spectrum Disorders?" Psychology Today (Sept 2013)
  • Richard Bergland, a neurosurgeon, asked what role the CSF and the brain's ventricular system could play in the brain's physiology. Using paper chromatography, a method that separates substances dissolved in a fluid, he observed more than 300 different peptides and amino acids in the CSF. He induced seizures in sheep, extracted CSF from the ventricles, and found these substances to substantially increase in variety and amount after seizures.
    • Max Fink, Electroconvulsive Therapy (2008)
  • There are debates in neuroscience about what the basic "stuff of thought" is, even within a materialist framework. Neurosurgeon Richard Bergland... argues that the stuff of thought is not electricity at all, but hormones. He rejects the view that the brain is an electronic computer; the brain is "wet"—bathed in "wet" molecules such as endocrine hormones. "Thinking," for Bergland, can occur in the ovaries and testicles. He believes that the "brain as a gland" hypothesis will revolutionize the study of mental illness. Computational models of mind contribute little to this study.
    • Joseph Wayne Smith, Graham Lyons, Gary Sauer-Thompson, Healing a Wounded World (1997)


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