Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain

001-2.jpgPickled in a jar or quivering under the anatomist's blade, the brain reveals very little of itself. In order to understand the organ, generations of scientists have pioneered increasingly sophisticated ways of examining it -- first by feeling its weight, shape, and color, then by cutting into it, magnifying its daunting muddle of cells, initially without much to tell them apart. And as they investigated the form and workings of the brain, neuroscientists have invented new ways of seeing. Our modern perspective relies entirely on technologies developed, or adapted, to scrutinize it -- chemical stains, state-of-the-art genetics, x-rays, MRIs, protein tagging. The resulting data reveal subtle variations in shape, intensity, and color, enabling scientists to pinpoint exactly what they seek to unveil and ignore the surrounding clutter.

Over the decades, the undifferentiated, monochrome swath of cells under the microscope's lens has bloomed into glorious Technicolor. In the new book Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, Columbia neuroscience PhD student Carl Schoonover curates and comments on a selection of images of neuroscience data generated in laboratories all over the world -- many of which have never been seen outside of the research community. Along with a foreword by Jonah Lehrer, and essays contributed by leading scientists, the book accounts for the tremendous sense of hope and anticipation that is shared by many in the field today, as an avalanche of innovative technologies arrives onto the scene. The set of images in this slideshow represents more than one hundred years of techniques that have been employed by scientists to expand our understanding of the way the brain is built and how it functions.

Introduction by Michelle Legro; Slide captions by Carl Schoonover.

Presented by

Carl Schoonover & Michelle Legro

Carl Schoonover is a neuroscience PhD candidate and National Science Foundation graduate fellow at Columbia University. Michelle Legro is an assistant editor at Lapham's Quarterly.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Technology

Just In