Cajal, y Santiago Ramón
y Cajal, Santiago Ramón 1852-1934
Spanish histologist, essayist, and autobiographer.
A seminal figure in the field of neuroanatomy, Ramón y Cajal is numbered among the world's finest scientists. For his isolation of the nerve cell, or neuron, as the fundamental unit of the nervous system Ramón y Cajal was awarded the 1906 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine, an honor he shared with Italian anatomist Camillo Golgi. In addition to this groundbreaking achievement, Ramón y Cajal is recognized for his work relating to the structure of the brain and nervous system, the function of nerve impulses, the nature of vision, and the processes of neural degeneration and regeneration. He is likewise noted for his nonscientific writings, particularly his autobiography, Recuerdos de mi vida (Recollections of My Life).
Ramón y Cajal was born in the village of Petilla de Aragon, Spain, on 1 May 1852, the son of Justo Ramón y Casasús, a barber and surgeon, and Antonia Cajal. A recalcitrant youth, Ramón y Cajal indulged his passion for drawing and neglected his studies. In time, his father persuaded him to study medicine. Ramón y Cajal was apprenticed to a barber, and later a cobbler, by his father, but continued to practice his art clandestinely. When he was somewhat older, Ramón y Cajal accompanied his father to a nearby churchyard where the two obtained bones for use in their study of anatomy. His interest in medicine piqued, he began to produce detailed sketches of the bones. At the age of sixteen, Ramón y Cajal embarked upon the formal study of medicine at the University of Zaragoza, graduating with a medical degree in 1873. His subsequent service as an army surgeon in Cuba was cut short when he contracted malaria and was returned to Spain. A long convalescence ensued, during which he earned a doctoral degree in medicine. From 1879 to 1883 Ramón y Cajal acted as director of the anatomical museum at the University of Zaragoza and began his work in cell biology. He accepted a position as professor of descriptive anatomy at the University of Valencia in 1883 and a professorship of histology at the University of Barcelona in 1887. He was named chair of histology at the University of Madrid in 1892.
In 1896 he produced his Manual de anatomia pathologica general and subsequently his Textura del sistema nervioso del hombre y de los vertebrados (New Ideas on the Structure of the Nervous System in Man and the Vertebrates) between 1899 and 1904. After years of relative neglect by the international scientific community, Ramón y Cajal's research on the anatomy of the nervous system was recognized in 1906 by the Nobel committee. Together with the Italian anatomist Camillo Golgi, who had developed a cell-staining process employed in research, Ramón y Cajal shared the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in that year. In 1913 and 1914, he published his two-volume Estudios sobre la degeneración y regeneración del sistema nervioso (Degeneration and Regeneration of the Nervous System). His reputation as an international authority on the anatomy and pathology of the nervous system long since secured, Ramón y Cajal was honored in 1920 by King Alfonso XIII of Spain, who commissioned the Instituto Cajal in Madrid. Upon its completion in 1922, Ramón y Cajal resigned his position at the University of Madrid to continue his work at the Instituto until his death on 18 October 1934.
Containing 1,800 pages and 887 original illustrations, Textura del sistema nervioso del hombre y de los vertebrados is Ramón y Cajal's principal work of neurohistology. The text offers considerable support for modern neuron theory, which describes the nervous system as a complex network of discrete nerve fibers separated by tiny gaps, or synapses. For his Estudios sobre la degeneración y regeneración del sistema nervioso Ramón y Cajal developed a new technique for staining neuroglia, the delicate connective tissue of the nervous system. This allowed him to classify several new types of cells and to examine the problem of regenerating damaged nervous tissue. He also produced a monograph on the procedures of science, Reglas y consejos sobre investigación biológia (Precepts and Counsels on Scientific Investigation). Among his nonscientific works, Ramón y Cajal published a notable autobiography, Recuerdos de mi vida, as well as a collection of anecdotes and aphorisms entitled Charlas de café.
Since rising from relative obscurity following the recognition of his work by the Nobel Prize committee in 1906, Ramón y Cajal has been acknowledged as a principal figure in the field of neuroscience. The complete publication of Textura del sistema nervioso del hombre y de los vertebrados in 1904 did much to overturn the then-prevalent conception of the nervous system as a single, conjoined mass rather than as a system of differentiated cells. The research documented in his Estudios sobre la degeneración y regeneración del sistema nervioso has proved vital to the medical treatment of tumors and repair of severed nerve tissue. At the end of the twentieth century only a small portion of Ramón y Cajal's theoretical work is still disputed among neuroscientists, while his enduring contribution to science and medicine as the progenitor of modern neurobiology remains unquestioned.
Manual de anatomia pathologica general (nonfiction) 1896
Textura del sistema nervioso del hombre y de los vertebrados [New Ideas on the Structure of the Nervous System in Man and the Vertebrates] (nonfiction) 1899-1904
Estudios sobre la degeneración y regeneración del sistema nervioso. 2 vols. [Degeneration and Regeneration of the Nervous System] (nonfiction) 1913-1914
Reglas y consejos sobre investigación biológia [Precepts and Counsels on Scientific Investigation] (non-fiction) 1916
Charlas de café (aphorisms) 1922
Recuerdos de mi vida [Recollections of My Life] (autobiography) 1923
Cajal on the Cerebral Cortex: An Annotated Translation of the Complete Writings [edited by Javier DeFelipe and Edward G. Jones] (nonfiction) 1988
(The entire section is 102 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Recuerdos de mi vida and Charlas de café, in ISIS, Vol. VIII, 1926, pp. 498-503.
[In the following review, May recounts Ramón y Cajal 's life and scientific accomplishments, then considers the aphorisms in Charlas de café.]
Among living biologists there is certainly no greater genius than S. Ramón y Cajal, the eminent Spanish histologist and neurologist. And were genius to be judged not only by the results achieved, but also by the difficulties overcome, Ramón y Cajal would stand preeminent among them all.
Ramón y Cajal began his scientific career at a time when Spain was almost totally unproductive of any original scientific investigation. Urged as much by patriotic zeal as by the feu sacré of research, he has succeeded, in the forty-five years since his first publication, in creating a great Spanish school of histology and neurology, in actively stimulating investigators in related fields of science, and in foreign countries, and in pointing a way to Spain, by his noble example, to a new era of scientific endeavour.
The son of a country physician, a man who had risen by his own efforts and knew the value of work, Santiago Ramón y Cajal was born in 1852, in Petilla de Aragón, in the province of Navarra. He was brought up in small towns in various provinces of Spain. As is the case with so many men of genius, his early...
(The entire section is 2311 words.)
SOURCE: "Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934)," in Annals of Medical History, Vol. VIII, No. 5, September, 1936, pp. 385-94.
[In the following essay, Gibson details Ramón y Cajal's life, work, and influence on the field of medical science.]
The ideal of science is to elucidate the dark mysteries and unknown forces which invest us, for the benefit of our descendants, and to make the world more agreeable and intelligible, while we ourselves are forgotten like the seed in the furrow.—CAJAL.
The beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century saw Helmholz, Ludwig, Virchow and Claude Bernard laying the foundations of scientific medicine. The new discoveries in physiology had been the signal for a concerted study of the minute structures of the body. Little was it realized that a new figure, Ramón y Cajal, had appeared on the horizon, in the far-off village of Petilla in the Pyrenees.
Cajal was born of the hardy peasant stock of Upper Aragón and Navarre. His father, a "surgeon of the second class," was famed throughout the mountains for his surgery, and not less for his hunting. Despite the greatest hardships, he entertained the burning hope that he might some day achieve the doctorate in medicine and surgery, and that his son Santiago should become a good doctor. In a tribute to his father written years afterwards, Cajal has...
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SOURCE: "Summation and Appraisal—By Way of Epilogue," in Explorer of The Human Brain: The Life of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934), Henry Schuman, 1949, pp. 263-75.
[In the following excerpt, Cannon surveys Ramón y Cajal's scientific and literary work, and describes his character and influence.]
What then remains? Courage, and patience, and simplicity, and kindness, and, last of all, ideas remain; these are the things to lay hold of and live with.
—A. C. BENSON
NEURONISM AND ITS IMPLICATIONS
That a man situated as Cajal was in a country where science was neglected and even despised should be the one to furnish modern neurology with so many new facts and such well-substantiated theories is the last thing one might expect. Study of the minute anatomy of the nervous system would seem to call for the finest of equipment and a delicacy of technique that is difficult to achieve even under the direction of a skillful teacher. Yet when Cajal began his work he had only the most meager equipment and nothing but foreign textbooks to guide him. The patience needed for the meticulous detail of preparing sections for microscopic study is enormous. Only those who have attempted many times to follow such directions as textbooks offer, and have failed again and again because they neglected some seemingly...
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SOURCE: "1906: Camillo Golgi (1844-1926), Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934)," in Nobel Prize Winners in Medicine and Physiology 1901-1950, Henry Schuman, 1953, pp. 32-40.
[In the following excerpt, Stevenson offers a brief summary of Ramón y Cajal's life and his Nobel Prize-winning research in neurophysiology.]
Santiago Ramón y Cajal was born May 1, 1852, In Petilla, an isolated village in the Spanish Pyrenees, where his father was "surgeon of the second class." The elder Ramón later extended his studies and in time became professor of anatomy at Zaragoza. The son's unfortunate early schooling, under tyrannical teachers, failed to reveal his gifts. It was followed by apprenticeship, first to a barber, then to a shoemaker. His father then undertook to teach him, particularly in osteology, which revealed the boy's talent as a draftsman. Thereafter he studied medicine at Zaragoza and was graduated in 1873. Then came compulsory service in the Spanish army, chiefly in Cuba, until 1875; during this interval he suffered severely from malaria and dysentery. After taking a medical degree at Madrid, he became a demonstrator and then, in 1877, professor of anatomy at Zaragoza; but he was soon forced to interrupt his work because of pulmonary tuberculosis. He married in 1879 and in 1884 was called to the chair of anatomy at Valencia. For a time he worked at bacteriology and serology, but turned to his proper...
(The entire section is 1273 words.)
SOURCE: "Nervous Starts," in Nature, Vol. 356, No. 6370, April 16, 1992, pp. 624-5.
[In the following review, Young observes the significance of Ramóny Cajal's work to modern neuron theory.]
Those who probe the nervous system with electrodes probably seldom stop to consider the history of knowledge of the cells they are impaling. Yet it would help them to think about the problems that have arisen in the search for units of nervous activity. Since the days of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, most neuroscientists have depended on a rather simple picture of the neuron, with dendrites, cell body and axon as the essential unit. This has also been the model mostly used in artificial intelligence. Shepherd's book [Foundations of the Neuron Doctrine] provides a survey of the history of the neuronal hypothesis. In his last chapter, he raises the question of whether we should now look for units both larger and smaller than the neuron.
The controversy at the end of the last century turned on the question of whether neurofibrils proceed from one cell to the next. It was conducted in fairly ferocious language. Cajal writes of his reticularist opponents, such as Golgi and A. Bethe, as "fanatics with haughty minds, inclined towards mysticism". Finally, in 1917, he is happy to write that "the unhorsed physiologist of Strasbourg [Bethe] decided to abandon the field. Victis honos!"
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SOURCE: "The Dark Room," in Grand Street, Vol. 12, No. 3, Fall, 1993, pp. 223-40.
[In the following essay, Montgomery explores the impact of Ramón y Cajal's scientific research on the study of vision.]
1. Ayerbe, Spain—1860
Unlike the other boys at school, Santiago Ramón y Cajal had no fear of solitary confinement. The dark detention center, a basement room set below the town square, into which light slashed only through cracks in the room's single shuttered window, was a place for Cajal to think: a quiet room in which to concentrate on what outrages to commit tomorrow. Cajal was then eight or nine. His fellow delinquents, locked in the blackness of the school prison, felt the presence of evil spirits. But Cajal had been raised a rationalist by his physician father, Don Justo. When one day he saw a spectral image hanging on the ceiling of his cell, the ghostly form inspired not superstitious terror, but the first of Cajal's scientific discoveries.
Cajal's troubles with the schoolmaster and his father—indeed, with all the authorities of Ayerbe, the Aragonese town to which his family moved in 1860—had begun in the square outside the shuttered window of his detention cell. The new boy in town, Cajal had been mocked by the young ruffians of Ayerbe upon his first appearance in the square for his unvillagelike dress and his Castilian accent. Subsequent visits...
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SOURCE: "Santiago Ramón y Cajal: The Atoms of Brain, 1889," in The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought, The University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 100-15.
[In the following essay, Everdell discusses Ramón y Cajal's formulation of neuron theory, suggesting that he may be 'the most important progenitor of twentieth-century neuroscience'.]
But when classicism says "man," it means reason and feeling. And when Romanticism says "man," it means passion and the senses. And when modernism says "man" it means the nerves.
—Hermann Bahr, The Overcoming of Naturalism: Sequel to "Critique of the Moderns"
In October 1889, at the Congress of the German Anatomical Society at the University of Berlin, a short, powerfully built Spaniard with penetrating black eyes set up a small exhibit of drawings done on paper with colored inks. For the past two and a half years, alone in a spare room behind his house in Barcelona, he had been drawing them from nature through the eyepiece of a Zeiss, the most powerful optical miscroscope yet made. His subject was the brain of the embryo of a small bird, its cerebellum to be exact, and each thin slice of it had been cut, prepared and dyed using his own improved version of a painstaking two-step process recently discovered in Italy. Because Spain was not a place where...
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Craigie, E. Horne, and William C. Gibson. The World of Ramón y Cajal: With Selections from His Nonscientific Writings. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1968, 295 p.
Contains a biography of Ramón y Cajal in the form of a travelogue and excerpts from his collection of aphorisms and sketches, Charlas de café, and other nonscientific works.
Ramón y Cajal, Santiago. "Recollections of My Life." Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society VIII, Parts I-II (1937): 3-638.
English translation of Ramón y Cajal's autobiography. Includes a list of Ramón y Cajal's publications, titles, decorations, and prizes.
Williams, Harley. Don Quixote of the Microscope: An Interpretation of the Spanish Savant Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934). London: Jonathan Cape, 1954, 255 p.
Biography designed for nonscientific audiences that emphasizes Ramón y Cajal's universal appeal.
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