Subject:  Cortical homunculus – The brain’s map of the body  

Event:  Birthday of neuroscientist Wilder Graves Penfield, 1891  

Imagine what your body would look like if each of its parts were in proportion to how much of your brain was dedicated to sensing with them or to how much of your brain was dedicated to moving with them. How much larger, for example, would your nose be in comparison to your foot?

2-D cortical motor homunculus (Wikipedia)

Because of the work of the neuroscientist Wilder Penfield — who was born on this day in Spokane, Washington, in 1891 — we have an accurate picture of how the human brain sees its body.  

Sharon Price-James Sensory Homunculus from the front
3-D sensorimotor homunculus (Wikipedia)

Penfield’s cartoon depiction of the human brain is called the cortical homunculus, or “cortex man.”  This cartoon presents a distorted image of the human body based on how much of the brain is dedicated to the motor or sensory functions of different body parts.  Because, for example, a large portion of the brain is dedicated to sensing with and controlling the movement of the fingers and the lips — as opposed to say the arms or the legs — these features are drawn to appear much larger than they appear on an actual human (1).

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  What is the cortical homunculus?

Challenge – My Eyes have Seen the Glory of the Homunculus:  After a meal you might have heard someone use the expression, “My eyes were bigger than my stomach.”  In this context it is obviously meant in a figurative rather than literal sense.  However, with knowledge of the cortical homunculus, you might argue that the expression is literally true.  Explain.


1-PBS. “Wilder Penfield 1891 – 1976.”

January 26: Isms Day

On this date in 1564, Pope Pius IV signed a letter certifying the decisions made by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent.  This act by the Pope in effect sealed the official split of the Christian Church between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

The 16th century was a tumultuous time for Christianity. Beginning with Martin Luther’s nailing of his 99 theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517 (See October 31:  Thesis Day), individuals began challenging the authority and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.  In 1533, the influential French theologian John Calvin broke from the church, and in that same year, King Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church, making himself the head of the Church of England.  This act of defiance came about when the Pope refused Henry’s request to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

The Council of Trent was, therefore, an attempt by the leadership of the Catholic Church to craft an official response to calls for reform.  The council met 25 times between 1545 and 1563 in the northern Italian town of Trent, discussing issues such as the requirements for salvation, the role of Latin as the exclusive language for prayer, the celibacy of priests, and the veneration of relics and saints.  The council also authorized the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of books forbidden by the church.  Although the Council did create some reforms in church doctrine, it ultimately failed to unify Christianity resulting in the divide that is still present today between Catholicism and Protestantism (1).

When it comes to ideas, the suffix -ism is the go-to word-ending for words that relate to ideas or ideologies, as in philosophies, systems, practices, or movements.  As we see with Catholicism and Protestantism, each -ism has its own unique and distinct history.  These words are also noteworthy in that each one attempts to wrap up a multitude of ideas into a single word.  As a result, each one, whether long (antidisestablishmentarianism) or short (cubism), is packed with dense meaning.

Today’s Challenge:  This-ism and That-ism

What is an -ism that you would be interested in exploring to better understand its meaning and history?  The list below reflects an A to Z sample of -isms from history, politics, philosophy, art, science, economics, and religion.  Select one of the -isms from the list or another one that you’re interested in. Research it for both its history and meaning.  Then, write a brief report in which you explain as clearly as possible the ideas and history that are encompassed in the single word.

Aristotelianism, Behaviorism, Capitalism, Dystopianism, Existentialism, Federalism, Goldwynism, Hinduism, Imagism, Jingoism, Keynesianism, Libertarianism, Malapropism, Naturalism, Objectivism, Pragmatism, Quietism, Romanticism, Stoicism, Totalitarianism, Utilitarianism, Victorianism, Wilsonianism, eXpressionism, Yankeeism, Zoroastrianism

Quotation of the Day:  Ev’rybody’s talking about Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism  -John Lennon in the song Give Peace a Chance

1- Marsh W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  366: A Leap Year of Great Stories From History. Icon Books, 2007.