The Dreams of Santiago Ramón y Cajal

The Dreams of Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Benjamin Ehrlich

Print publication date: Nov 2016

ISBN: 9780190619619

Publisher: Oxford University Press


This book contains the first English translation of the lost dream diary of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934), the Nobel Prize-winning “father of modern neuroscience.” In the late nineteenth century, while scientific psychologists searched the inner world of human beings for suitable objects of study, Cajal discovered that the nervous system, including the brain, is composed of distinctly independent cells, later termed neurons. “The mysterious butterflies of the soul,” he romantically called them, “whose beating of wings may one day reveal to us the secrets of the mind.” Cajal was contemporary with Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), whose “secrets of the mind” radically influenced a century of thought. Although the two men never met, their lives and works were intimately related, and each is identified with the foundation of a modern intellectual discipline—neurobiology and psychoanalysis—still in conversation and conflict today. In personal letters, Cajal insulted Freud and dismissed his theories as lies. In order to disprove his rival, Cajal returned to an old research project and started recording his own dreams. For the last five years of his life, he abandoned his own neurobiological research and concentrated on psychological manuscripts, including a new “dream book.” Although his intention was to publish, the project was never released. The unfinished work was thought to be lost, until recently, when a Spanish book appeared claiming to feature the dreams of Cajal, along with the untold story of their complex journey into print.