Limbic system concept

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Chapter 8 endnote 27, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

Over the next century, Broca’s limbic lobe morphed into a unified “limbic system” for emotion, guided by other believers in the classical view. This so-called system was said to be evolutionarily old; to be virtually unchanged from its origin in non-human mammals; and to control the heart, lungs, and other internal organs of the body. It allegedly lay between ancient “reptilian” circuits in the brainstem for hunger, thirst, and so on, and the newer, uniquely human layers of cortex that regulate mankind’s animalistic emotions. [...] The term “limbic” originated in the murky world of seventeenth-century anatomy.

The term “limbic” originated with the English anatomist Thomas Willis, who identified some tissue in the cortex that encircled the thalamus, hypothalamus, and some brainstem regions.[1] He named it “limbic,” meaning “border” or “edge.” Note that Willis’s definition of limbic tissue was entirely based on anatomy, not on function.

Willis also proposed that the cerebral cortex controlled memory, voluntary action (also called "the will"), and imagination. He was an early advocate for trying to localize psychological functions to specific parts of the brain.[2]

There are several excellent histories of the limbic system concept.[3][4]


Notes on the Notes

  1. Willis, Thomas. 1664. Cerebri Anatomie. Discussed in O'Connor, James P B. 2003. "Thomas Willis and the background to Cerebri Anatome." Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 96: 139-143.
  2. Finger, Stanley. 1994. Origins of Neuroscience: A History of Explorations into Brain Function. New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. Roxo, Marcelo R., Paulo R. Franceschini, Carlos Zubaran, Fabrício D. Kleber, and Josemir W. Sander. 2011. "The limbic system conception and its historical evolution." The Scientific World Journal 11: 2427-2440.
  4. Lautin, Andrew. 2001. The Limbic Brain. Boston: Kluwer/Plenum.