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The Origin of Common Sense

Episode 3 of 10

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 09 November 2011

Dr Geoff Bunn's 10 part History of the Brain is a journey through 5000 years of our understanding of this complex organ in our heads. From Neolithic times to the present day, he reveals the contemporary beliefs about what the brain is for and how it fulfils its functions.

While referencing the core physiology and neuroscience, this is a cultural, not a scientific history. What soon becomes obvious is that our understanding of this most inscrutable organ has in all periods been coloured by the social and political expedients of the day no less than by the contemporary scope of scientific or biological exploration.

In Episode 3: The Origin of Common Sense, the focus is on Ancient Rome with Galen's 'animal spirits' gently inflating the ventricles and making thought possible, and on how early Christian scholarship placed the soul in the brain's ventricles. But with the Dark Ages, it was Islamic scholars who continued to explore the brain: Al Razi studied apoplexy or stroke, while Ibn Sina proposed that thoughts travelled through the brain in a predictable sequence and identified the 'common sense' in the front ventricle.

The series is entirely written and presented by Dr Geoff Bunn of Manchester Metropolitan University, with actors Paul Bhattacharjee and Jonathan Forbes providing the voices of those who have written about the brain from Ancient Egypt to the present day, and actor Hattie Morahan giving the Anatomy Lesson which establishes the part of the brain to be highlighted in each episode - in this instance the ventricles. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

  • Presenter - Dr Geoff Bunn

    Presenter - Dr Geoff Bunn

  • Double page from Mugiz al-Qanun, an Arabic medical text

    Double page from Mugiz al-Qanun, an Arabic medical text

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

    Double page from Mugiz al-Qanun, an Arabic medical text concerning a commentary on Ibn Sinia's al-Qanun or The Canon of Medicine

    Ibn Sina - “Prince of Physicans” - wrote 100 books including the standard reference text, The Canon of Medicine

  • Al-Razi


    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

    Portrait of Rhazes (al-Razi) (AD 865 - 925) physician and alchemist who lived in Baghdad

  • Science Explorer

    Science Explorer

    Explore the big ideas from A History of the Brain with the Science Explorer, featuring hundreds of programmes from the Radio 4 science archive

    Science Explorer - Dr Geoff Bunn
  • Instruments for dissection,

    Instruments for dissection,

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

    Instruments for dissection, after Vesalius' Fabrica 1543

  • Leonardo da Vinci

    Leonardo da Vinci

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

    Leonardo da Vinci - line engraving by R. Morghen


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