Hans Berger and the invention of EEG

"...Hans Berger, son of a physician and grandson, on his mother's side, of the well-known German poet, Friedrich Ruckert, was a typical product of the Germany of the late nineteenth century, into which he was born in 1873. His physician-father and his maternal poet grandfather can almost be taken as symbolizing the main cultural currents of this age of German history. They shaped Berger's personality and outlook.

There was in Germany at that time a vigorous blossoming of natural sciences, of which medicine formed an integral part, but there was also a romantic striving for the realm of poetic myths, where free reign was given to the heart and mind to explore spiritual realms, believed to be hidden behind the cold realities of the objective world.

More than elsewhere in the Western world, these two currents of human thought co-existed in Germany. Berger throughout his life exemplified this characteristic German dichotomy. As a youth he was intensely interested in natural sciences and mathematics. He was also extremely fond of poetry and loved to read philosophical books. While serving on the Western front with the German Army in World War I, he avidly read Spinoza, Kant and Renan's Life of Jesus. For him, as for many of his German contemporaries, there was no gulf separating two cultures, the scientific and the poetic-philosophical. To him this was all one world.

As a teenager he devoured a book dealing with the body-mind problem, which he had found in his mother's library. This question was to absorb his interest throughout his life. It prompted him in his student days to abandon astronomy for medicine and later to become a psychiatrist. The theme of the psycho-physical relationships runs as a "Leitmotiv" through all his writings, including those on electroencephalography. Physiology interested him only insofar as it held out some hope to clarify the connection between the material and spiritual. To him, the soul was no independent entity but a reality somehow mysteriously connected to the material physiological processes of the brain, especially its cortex. The search for this mysterious connection was the motive for all his studies on the human EEG; everything else was subordinate to it. This single-mindedness explains why Berger, although he obviously saw in the electroencephalogram most of the features with which we are now familiar, looked upon them with quite different questions in mind than those we ask ourselves today..."

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