Cristina Nigro

PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, History & Social Medicine, University of California, San Francisco

2019 to 2020
Dissertation Fellow

The Active Brain - A History of the Electrophysiological and Molecular Study of Cognition in the 20th Century

The doctoral dissertation explores how 20th century neurophysiologists constructed, legitimized and challenged scientific knowledge, produced new technologies and modified old concepts, helped merge the physical and biological sciences, and co-created meanings of the “self” as part of broader sociocultural, philosophical, and scientific discourse. The project will uncover the changing neurophysiological research paradigms dominant in the 20th century, asking how the incorporation of interdisciplinary research concepts into neurophysiological theories of learning and memory both reflect and shape changing cultural discourse about how the self relates to the brain and the self’s capacity to actively adapt to a changing environment. It also will explain how theories about nerve cell activity connects with socio-scientific concepts of artificial intelligence. This dissertation will make important contributions to scholarship by placing the field of neurophysiology at the center of changing discourse of what it means to be human in the 20th century.