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Brain. 2011 Oct;134(Pt 10):3114-20. doi: 10.1093/brain/awr218. Epub 2011 Sep 16.

John Hughlings Jackson's evolutionary neurology: a unifying framework for cognitive neuroscience.

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  • 1Department of Psychology and fMRIotago, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


John Hughlings Jackson was a pioneer in neurology who thought deeply about the structure of the brain and how that manifested itself in the various syndromes that he saw in the clinic. He enunciated a theory of the evolution and dissolution of neural function based on the idea that basic sensorimotor processes become embedded in networks of connections that relate them in successively more complex ways to allow for performance of more and more nuanced and adaptive functions. Hughlings Jackson noted the curious link between human thought, action and speech. He further recognized that disinhibition or release from control and direction marked neurological damage. His integrative framework remains deeply relevant to the plethora of results being produced by the careful and diverse experimentation currently undertaken with the aid of brain imaging techniques of which he could only dream. In celebration of the memory of John Hughlings Jackson, we revisit his concept of neural evolution and development, which led to what eventually became a leading model of brain organization, whereby a new order of behavioural control--the conscious mind--is created out of simpler elements, in a manner similar to Herbert Spencer's evolutionary theory. By this Hughlings Jackson did not mean anything dualistic but merely that the highest layer of evolution of nervous arrangements was 'highly complicated' and that dissolution of that higher level leaves 'a lower consciousness and a shallower nervous system'.

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