from SCIENCE 2.0

The Origin And Evolution Of The Homunculus

By News Staff

How did the most famous concept devised in neurobiology–the homunculus of neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield – originate?

Some answers derive from assessing Penfield’s archives at the Osler Library of McGill University, as well as the only known copy from which the beginnings of the homunculus may be traced–Edwin Boldrey’s 1936 McGill master’s degree thesis supervised by Penfield. 

The iconic homunculus was devised by Penfield as a teaching tool to aid memory, and was drawn by Hortense Cantlie, a medical illustrator at McGill. She rendered the complex idea simply for its first appearance in 1937 as an acrobat hanging from a trapeze by his knees, with his head tilted up to look at the audience. The areas devoted to the opposable thumbs, necessary for grasping tools, and to the tongue and lips, necessary for speech, are disproportionally large, reflecting their relative importance with respect to human experience. 

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