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The Beast Within

Episode 6 of 10

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 14 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.

Episode 6: The Beast Within, focuses on localisation. Following a macabre accident when an iron rod shot through his head, Phineas Gage, a mild-mannered railway worker in Vermont, became capricious and profane. Meanwhile in France Paul Broca established that damage to another part of the brain caused aphasia. While phrenology had it that the brains of 'degenerates' differed from those of poets or scientists, British neurologist John Hughlings Jackson incorporated evolutionary ideas into his theory of brain function: higher centres with more recent evolutionary origins kept lower, more primitive ones in check.

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 four lobes. The original, atmospheric score is supplied by composer, Barney Quinton.

Producer: Marya Burgess.

  • Presenter - Dr Geoff Bunn

    Presenter - Dr Geoff Bunn

  • Charles Darwin

    Charles Darwin

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

    Portrait of Charles Darwin, head and shoulders by Franz Carl Muller

  • Pierre-Paul Broca

    Pierre-Paul Broca

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

  • Phrenology pioneer Franz Josef Gall

    Phrenology pioneer Franz Josef Gall

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

    Franz Joseph Gall leading a discussion on phrenology with five colleagues, among his extensive collection of skulls and model heads. Coloured etching by T. Rowlandson, 1808.

  • Human skull with phrenological markings

    Human skull with phrenological markings

    Credit: Wellcome Library, London

  • 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
  • Phineas Gage's skull with bar

    Phineas Gage's skull with bar


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