The Hundred Trillion Stories in Your Head


In this piece for The Paris Review, Benjamin Ehrlich discusses the role of the literary arts in shaping the work and ideas of Santagio Ramón y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience.

“The world of the infinitely small, like novels of his youth, seemed more real to Cajal than everyday existence. How else could he routinely spend up to fifteen hours a day, for almost fifty years, alone in the laboratory? He claimed to have observed a million neurons, witnessing them in every phase of their lives: birth, development, movement, relationships, adversity, trauma, decline, and death. On thumbnail sheets of dead brain tissue, the Spaniard’s cherished stories came to life. He imagined neurons as protagonists in an intense cerebral drama. Their fibers ‘groped to find another.’ Their aching contacts became ‘protoplasmic kisses’—’the final ecstasy of an epic love story.'”