Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This inventor story is about Hans Berger, the pioneer of electroencephalography (EEG) - technology widely used today in brain research and medical applications.

It is well known that Berger worked for almost 30 years in nearly complete isolation, recording electrical activity from the brain, before he dared to risk his first publication on the EEG in 1929. His first few publications on the new method were neglected until Nobel Prize winner Douglas Adrian repeated his experiments and demonstrated the new method to the scientific community of physiologists. Then, in the second half of the 1930s, groups specializing in EEG recording mushroomed all over the world, particularly in the United States.

A happy ending? Not really. Berger developed and used EEG to detect signs of human psychic activity. The popular press was enthusiastic about the technology, but scientists met Berger's direction of research with skepticism. Eventually, funds dried up and "without any prospect of pursuing the project further, Berger, depressed, committed suicide on June 1, 1941."
At the same time, clinical psychiatrists who used the same technology to solve a different problem (detection of brain disorders), succeeded beyond all expectations:

Quite early on, the new method demonstrated an enormous diagnostic potential with the recording of disease-specific patterns. Brain tumors could be localized by their halo of electrical silence, and epileptic seizures displayed persistently dramatic changes of the record.

Same technology, drastically different results in its application.

Source: Cornelius Borck. 2005. WRITING BRAINS: Tracing the Psyche With the Graphical Method. History of Psychology. 2005, Vol. 8, No. 1, 79–94. DOI: 10.1037/1093-4510.8.1.79

tags: health, problem, 4q diagram, problem, solution, reverse brainstorm, mousetrap

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