The 19th century heralded exciting times for neuroscience. The experimental methods that had proved so successful in the physical and chemical sciences were applied to biology; nerve structures and pathways were charted; the functions of the brain were hinted at by Gall, who even proposed that psychological faculties were localized in specific regions of the cerebrum; and perceptual phenomena were given physiological interpretations. Purkinje participated in several of these developments, although the principal focus of this book is on the last mentioned, which was the topic of Purkinje's doctoral dissertation of 1818, which was printed in 1819 and reprinted in 1823.
The scope of Purkinje's interests was broad, and he made important contributions to many areas that have hardly been touched on. For example, in his inaugural address at Breslau, Purkinje (1823b) described the principles on which an ophthalmoscope could operate, and he outlined how fingerprints could be used as a means of identifying individuals. He found “after examining a great number of individuals, nine patterns of papillary lines on the skin of the fingers” (Opera Selecta, Purkinje, 1948, p. XXIV). The nine patterns are shown in Fig. 5.2.
Two years later, working without the aid of a good achromatic microscope, Purkinje (1825b) discovered the germinal vesicle in the yolk of bird's eggs.