Santiago Ramón y Cajal

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Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1 May 1852 – 17 October 1934) was a famous Spanish neuroanatomist and is considered by many to be the father of modern neuroscience. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1906 for medicine along with Camillo Golgi.



Advice for a Young Investigator (1897)

  • Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain ( p. xv).
  • Instead of elaborating on accepted principles, let us simply point out that for the last hundred years the natural sciences have abandoned completely the Aristotelian principles of intuition, inspiration, and dogmatism.
  • The unique method of reflection indulged in by the Pythagoreans and followers of Plato (and pursued in modern times by Descartes, Fichte, Krause, Hegel, and more recently at least partly by Bergson) involves exploring one’s own mind or soul to discover universal laws and solutions to the great secrets of life.
  • This history of civilization proves beyond doubt just how sterile the repeated attempts of metaphysics to guess at nature' s laws have been. Instead, there is every reason to believe that when the human intellect ignores reality and concentrates within, it can no longer explain the simplest inner workings of life' s machinery or of the world around us ( p. 2).
  • The intellect is presented with phenomena marching in review before the sensory organs. It can be truly useful and productive only when limiting itself to the modest tasks of observation, description, and comparison, and of classification that is based on analogies and differences. A knowledge of underlying causes and empirical laws will then come slowly through the use of inductive methods.
  • As Claude Bernard has pointed out, researchers cannot transcend the determinism of phenomena; instead, their mission is limited to demonstrating the how, never the why, of observed changes. This is a modest goal in the eyes of philosophy, yet an imposing challenge in actual practice.
  • Knowing the conditions under which a phenomenon occurs allows us to reproduce or eliminate it at will, therefore allowing us to control and use it for the benefit of humanity. Foresight and action are the advantages we obtain from a deterministic view of phenomena.
  • The severe constraints imposed by determinism may appear to limit philosophy in a rather arbitrary way. However, there is no denying that in the natural sciences — and especially in biology — it is a very effective tool for avoiding the innate tendency to explain the universe as a whole in terms of general laws.
  • Now and then philosophers invade the field of biological sciences with these beguiling generalizations, which tend to be unproductive, purely verbal solutions lacking in substance. At best, they may prove useful when viewed simply as working hypotheses.
  • There is no doubt that the human mind is fundamentally incapable of solving these formidable problems (the origin of life, nature of matter, origin of movement, and appearance of consciousness). Our brain is an organ of action that is directed toward practical tasks; it does not appear to have been built for discovering the ultimate causes of things, but rather for determining their immediate causes and invariant relationships.
  • It is important to note that the most brilliant discoveries have not relied on a formal knowledge of logic. Instead, their discoverers have had an acute inner logic that generates ideas with the same unstudied unconsciousness that allowed Jourdain to create prose.
  • In summary, there are no small problems. Problems that appear small are large problems that are not understood (p. 17).

Quotes about Santiago Ramón y Cajal

  • Cajal is considered the father of modern neuroscience, as important in his field as Charles Darwin or Louis Pasteur are in theirs (though relatively unknown outside of it).
  • Santiago Ramón y Cajal is recognized as the founder of modern neuroscience, his discoveries representing the fundamental pillars of our current understanding of the nervous system.
  • As the decades have passed, one by one all his theories have been corroborated using modern techniques, and the main hypotheses that Cajal postulated have become universally recognized as biological laws: The neuron theory; the law of the dynamic polarization of the neuron and the principle of connectional specificity.
  • For most neuroscientists, the roots of our discipline stem from Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the Spanish scientist who, during almost half a century of patient work, showed that the nervous system is made up of independent nerve cells. His studies on the anatomical organization of the brain are still a source of inspiration for many of us. His monumental body of work fully justifies that Ramón y Cajal be singled out as the founder of modern neuroscience.
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