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British Wildlife is the leading natural history magazine in the UK, providing essential reading for both enthusiast and professional naturalists and wildlife conservationists. Published eight times a year, British Wildlife bridges the gap between popular writing and scientific literature through a combination of long-form articles, regular columns and reports, book reviews and letters.

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Academic & Professional Books  History & Other Humanities  History of Science & Nature

Dawn of the Neuron The Early Struggles to Trace the Origin of Nervous Systems

By: Michel Anctil(Author)
416 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
How Darwin's theory of evolution drove generations of zoologists to search for the first evolved nervous systems in simple organisms
Dawn of the Neuron
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  • Dawn of the Neuron ISBN: 9780773545717 Hardback Oct 2015 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 1-2 weeks
Price: £36.99
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

In science, sometimes it is best to keep things simple. Initially discrediting the discovery of neurons in jellyfish, mid-nineteenth-century scientists grouped jellyfish, comb-jellies, hydra, and sea anemones together under one term – "coelenterates" – and deemed these animals too similar to plants to warrant a nervous system. In Dawn of the Neuron, Michel Anctil shows how Darwin's theory of evolution completely eradicated this idea and cleared the way for the modern study of the neuron. Once zoologists accepted the notion that varying levels of animal complexity could evolve, they began to use simple-structured creatures such as coelenterates and sponges to understand the building blocks of more complicated nervous systems.

Dawn of the Neuron provides fascinating insights into the labours and lives of scientists who studied coelenterate nervous systems over several generations, and who approached the puzzling origin of the first nerve cells through the process outlined in evolutionary theory. Anctil also reveals how these scientists, who were willing to embrace improved and paradigm-changing scientific methods, still revealed their cultural backgrounds, their societal biases, and their attachments to schools of thought and academic traditions while presenting their ground-breaking work.

Their attitudes toward the neuron doctrine – where neurons are individual, self-contained cells – proved decisive in the exploration of how neurons first emerged. Featuring photographs and historical sketches to illustrate this quest for knowledge, Dawn of the Neuron is a remarkably in-depth exploration of the link between Darwin's theory of evolution and pioneering studies and understandings of the first evolved nervous systems.

Customer Reviews


Michel Anctil is honorary professor of biology at Universite de Montreal.

By: Michel Anctil(Author)
416 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
How Darwin's theory of evolution drove generations of zoologists to search for the first evolved nervous systems in simple organisms
Media reviews

"Dawn of the Neuron shows how the evolution metaphor controversy played out in the emergence of the neuron doctrine and how inadequate research methods misled many authors on fundamental questions. The book is therefore a caution with regard to the overzealous speculation about universal principles of neural organization. Anctil has been active in research on coelenterates and therefore is an excellent guide in adjudicating these controversies."
– Gordon M. Shepherd, Yale University

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