Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science

Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science

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Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science is a 1979 book by astrophysicist Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan
Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books...

. Its chapters were originally articles published between 1974 and 1979 in various magazines, including Atlantic Monthly, New Republic
The New Republic
The magazine has also published two articles concerning income inequality, largely criticizing conservative economists for their attempts to deny the existence or negative effect increasing income inequality is having on the United States...

, Physics Today
Physics Today
Physics Today, created in 1948, is the membership journal of the American Institute of Physics. It is provided to 130,000 members of twelve physics societies, including the American Physical Society...

, Playboy
Playboy
Playboy is an American men's magazine that features photographs of nude women as well as journalism and fiction. It was founded in Chicago in 1953 by Hugh Hefner and his associates, and funded in part by a $1,000 loan from Hefner's mother. The magazine has grown into Playboy Enterprises, Inc., with...

and Scientific American
Scientific American
Scientific American is a popular science magazine. It is notable for its long history of presenting science monthly to an educated but not necessarily scientific public, through its careful attention to the clarity of its text as well as the quality of its specially commissioned color graphics...

. In the introduction, Sagan writes:

Title


The title essay is named in honor of the French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 physician
Physician
A physician is a health care provider who practices the profession of medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, injury and other physical and mental impairments...

, anatomist and anthropologist, Paul Broca
Paul Broca
Pierre Paul Broca was a French physician, surgeon, anatomist, and anthropologist. He was born in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, Gironde. He is best known for his research on Broca's area, a region of the frontal lobe that has been named after him. Broca’s Area is responsible for articulated language...

 (1824–1880). He is best known for his discovery that different functions are assigned to different parts of the brain. He believed that by studying the brains of cadavers and correlating the known experiences of the former owner of the organs, human behavior could eventually be discovered and understood. To that end, he saved hundreds of human brains in jars of formalin; among the collection is his own neural organ. When Sagan finds it in Musée de l'Homme
Musée de l'Homme
The Musée de l'Homme was created in 1937 by Paul Rivet for the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne. It is the descendant of the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro, founded in 1878...

, he poses questions that challenge some core ideas of human existence such as "How much of that man known as Paul Broca can still be found in this jar?" - a question that evokes both religious
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

 and scientific
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 argument.

Contents


A major part of the book is devoted to debunking "paradoxers" who either live at the edge of science or are outright charlatan
Charlatan
A charlatan is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception....

s. An example of this is the controversy surrounding Immanuel Velikovsky
Immanuel Velikovsky
Immanuel Velikovsky was a Russian-born American independent scholar of Jewish origins, best known as the author of a number of controversial books reinterpreting the events of ancient history, in particular the US bestseller Worlds in Collision, published in 1950...

's ideas presented in the book Worlds in Collision
Worlds in Collision
Worlds in Collision is a book written by Immanuel Velikovsky and first published on April 3, 1950. The book proposed that around the 15th century BCE, Venus was ejected from Jupiter as a comet or comet-like object, and passed near Earth...

. Another large part of the book discusses naming conventions for the members of our solar system and their physical features. Science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 is also discussed at some length. Here, Sagan mentions Robert A. Heinlein
Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Anson Heinlein was an American science fiction writer. Often called the "dean of science fiction writers", he was one of the most influential and controversial authors of the genre. He set a standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the genre's standards of...

 as being one of his favorite science fiction authors in his childhood. Near death experience
Near death experience
A near-death experience refers to a broad range of personal experiences associated with impending death, encompassing multiple possible sensations including detachment from the body; feelings of levitation; extreme fear; total serenity, security, or warmth; the experience of absolute dissolution;...

s and their cultural ambiguity is another topic of the essays. Sagan makes also a criticism of theories developed in Robert K. G. Temple
Robert K. G. Temple
Robert K. G. Temple is an American author best known for his controversial book, The Sirius Mystery which presents the idea that the Dogon people preserve the tradition of contact with intelligent extraterrestrial beings from the Sirius star-system...

's book The Sirius Mystery
The Sirius Mystery
The Sirius Mystery is a book by Robert K. G. Temple first published by St. Martin's Press in 1975. It presents the hypothesis that the Dogon people of Mali in west Africa, preserve a tradition of contact with intelligent extraterrestrial beings from the Sirius star-system.These beings, who are...

published three years earlier in 1975.

The final section of the book is entitled, "Ultimate Questions." Sagan is famous for his quote about God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

in this part:

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