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Debunked Brain Myths From History

Modern medicine still struggles to understand the human brain. While chances are, we will never fully understand the secrets that the brain holds, we have come a long way from our ancestors who believed for several millennia that the brain was a mostly ancillary organ.

Read on to learn about some of the most popular brain myths from history (and modern day) about the human brain. 

1. The brain exists to cool the heart.

Aristotle, commonly referred to as the father of modern medicine, came to believe that the heart was the most important organ in animals after studying the growth of chick embryos. The heart, Aristotle believed, wasthe center of vitality and consciousness. Under his line of thinking, all other major organs of the body existed to keep the heart cool and prevent it from overheating.

2. The brain exists to provide cushioning for the skull to not cave in.

Ancient Egyptians believed that the brain only existed as stuffing to keep the skull from caving in. During the Ancient Egyptian mummification process, all major organs except for the heart would be removed from a body and placed into canopic jars to be preserved. The heart would be kept inside the body under the belief that the heart was the seat of consciousness, and the brains would often be removed and discarded.

3. Measuring the surface of the skull will give you information about your psychological aptitude and tendencies.

The study of phrenology, which rose to popularity in the 19th century, was a medical practice that advocated certain brain functions could be found in specific areas of the brain, which a physician would find by feeling and measuring the bumps and grooves on the patient’s head. The founders of phrenology concluded that humans had twenty-seven “brain organs” located under a specific areas of the skull. The more you used a “mental organ,” such as creativity or love, the more prominent that area of the brain would become. This pseudo-science saw a resurgence during the Holocaust, when Adolf Hitler and his team of Nazi doctors used phrenology as proof of the superiority of the Aryan race.

4. Humans have five senses.

It's taught in elementary school that humans have five senses - sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Most people still think this is true, but the brain is also capable of processing information that gives us the sensation of balance and how our bodies are positioned (proprioception). The sensation as well as the sensation pain (nociception). It is also commonly held that humans have only five taste sensations - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami - but we actually have an additional taste sensation for fatty flavors, known as "oleogustus".

5. Movement is caused by the flow of air or water from the brain to the muscles.

Famous French philosopher Rene Descartes was a supporter of the Balloonist theory. The Balloonist theory, which was highly popular for this time period, was the idea that our nerves contain fluids and animal spirits emanating from the brain would flow through the nerves to the muscle, causing muscle movement. This theory was quickly debunked. shutterstock_133874900