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The Nervous System

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 10 February 2011

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the nervous system.

Most animals have a nervous system, a network of nerve tissues which allows parts of the body to communicate with each other. In humans the most significant parts of this network are the brain, spinal column and retinas, which together make up the central nervous system. But there is also a peripheral nervous system, which enables sensation, movement and the regulation of the major organs.

Scholars first described the nerves of the human body over two thousand years ago. For 1400 years it was believed that they were animated by 'animal spirits', mysterious powers which caused sensation and movement. In the eighteenth century scientists discovered that nerve fibres transmitted electrical impulses; it was not until the twentieth century that chemical agents - neurotransmitters - were first identified.

With:

Colin Blakemore
Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford

Vivian Nutton
Emeritus Professor of the History of Medicine at University College, London

Tilli Tansey
Professor of the History of Modern Medical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London.

Producer: Thomas Morris.

  • FURTHER READING

    C. Blakemore, 'The Mind Machine' (London: BBC Books, 1988. Also published in the BBC Classics Series, 1990. Revised edition published in BBC/Penguin series, 1994)

    C. Blakemore & S. Jennett, 'The Oxford Companion to the Body' (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)

    J. D. Spillane, 'The Doctrine of the Nerves' (Oxford University Press, 1981)

    S. Finger, 'Minds Behind the Brain' (Oxford University Press, 2000)

    V. Nutton, 'Ancient Medicine' (London, Routledge, 2004)

    H. Whitaker, C.U.M. Smith & S. Finger, 'Brain, Mind and Medicine: Essays in 18th-Century Neuroscience' (New York, Springer, 2007)

    S. Ochs, 'A History of Nerve Function' (CUP, 2004)

    Stephen W. Kuffler, John G. Nicholls & A. Robert Martin, 'From Neuron to Brain: A Cellular Approach to the Function of the Nervous System' (Sinauer Associates; 4th Edition, 2001)

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