Born in Spokane, Washington, in 1891, Penfield studied medicine at Princeton University. He was studying epilepsy in the 1930s when he wondered if by stimulation a certain part of the brain with a current, he could provoke a seizure. Once he had localised the area causing the seizure, he reasoned, he could destroy that part of the brain and cure the epilepsy. This was partially successful, but it was by accident that he at that time discovered the thing for which he is most famous: he found that by stimulating parts of the temporal lobe in his patients he could elicit the recall of vivid memories or experiences, previously beyond recall: a certain piece of music, a fragment from a childhood holiday or a dream, say. When he touched the same area with his probe the same experience would recur once more. This led him to theorise about 'engrams' - the physical components of memory (not to be confused with the Scientology use of the word).

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