Everything you wanted to know about trepanation


Madeline von Foerster, 2005

I’ve wanted for some time to post this evocative self-portrait by artist Madeline von Foerster, but I knew if I did, I would have to accompany it with an article about the history of trepanation. An ancient surgical procedure which involves drilling the cranium and removing small sections of bone, trepanation has both mystical and medical associations, and despite its inclusion in Phil Pullman’s popular His Dark Materials trilogy, it remains pretty obscure.

Imagine my surprise and delight when, in the timeliest of manners, the Neurophilosopher swooped in and wrote this excellent Illustrated History of Trepanation that I can simply link to! Thank you, Neurophilosophy Man! You’re my hero! (In your honor, I hereby pledge to read a large chunk of neurophilosophy in the time I would have otherwise spent Googling “trepanation”, “trephination”, and all its other variants).

Anyway – after reading all about trepanation, I highly recommend that you visit von Foerster’s website. Her intricate artwork bursts with medieval influences, symbolism, and erudition, while remaining completely delightful – and her textures, color and detail border on hedonistic. I’m not sure how many levels of meaning there are to some of her pieces, but it’s lovely to try to figure it out.

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5 Responses to Everything you wanted to know about trepanation

  1. Mo says:

    A quite remarkable self-portrait. It depicts a transverse handle trepan, similar to some of the instruments described by Ambroise Paré in the late 16th Century.

  2. cicada says:

    I can’t believe you know that. (To me it looks like a woodworking tool.)

  3. Mo says:

    I didn’t know that until a few days ago! And that’s why blogging is so much fun – you learn so much.

  4. Pingback: Another hole in the head « Neurophilosophy

  5. Annie says:

    The Mütter Museum has a little section of trepanated skulls. Kinda brutal. I also remember an article in Spin magazine from about ten years ago about folks drilling holes in the tops of their heads with screw guns to increase blood flow and thus become more enlightened…
    I love your blog.

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