Mountcastle’s spatial cerebral discovery

For many months I’ve had a magazine clipping on my desk, an obituary of Vernon Mountcastle.  The late Dr. Mountcastle is best known for his 1957 publication that contains the words “topographic” and “cats” in its title: “Modality and Topographic Properties of Single Neurons of Cat’s Somatic Sensory Cortex.” What did these poor cats help Vernon figure out?  That the brain cells (i.e., neurons) that react to a particular stimulus (i.e., a touch) are themselves aligned in a vertical pattern (rather than randomly located, or arranged horizontally). We now know this as the columnar organization of our cerebral cortex.

Like when Watson and Cricks (after work of many others) were inspired to envision a twisting double-helix. Spatial thinking contributes substantially to all knowledge, in one way or another.

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