Charles Scott Sherrington (1857–1952), one of the greatest and most inexplicably forgotten British scientists of the modern era. Sherrington’s life seems to have been lifted straight out of a nineteenth-century boys’ adventure story. A gifted athlete, he played soccer for Ipswich Town while still in school and had a distinguished rowing career at Cambridge. He was above all a brilliant student, winning many honors while impressing all who met him with his modest manner and keen intellect. After graduating in 1885, he studied bacteriology under the great German Robert Koch, then embarked on a dazzlingly varied and productive career in which he did seminal work on tetanus, industrial fatigue, diphtheria, cholera, bacteriology, and hematology. He proposed the law of reciprocal innervation for muscles, which states that when one muscle contracts, a companion muscle must relax—essentially explaining how muscles work. While studying the brain, he developed the concept of the synapse, coining the term “synapse” in the process. This in turn led to the idea of proprioception—another Sherrington coinage—which is the body’s ability to know its own orientation in space. (Even with your eyes closed, you know whether you are lying down or whether your arms are outstretched and so on.) And this, in further turn, led to the discovery in 1906 of nociceptors, the nerve endings that alert you to pain. Sherrington’s landmark book on the subject, The Integrative Action of the Nervous System, has been compared to Newton’s Principia and Harvey’s De motu cordis (On the Motion of the Heart) in terms of its revolutionary revolutionary importance to its field. But Sherrington’s admirable qualities don’t stop there. He was, by all accounts, a pretty wonderful person: devoted husband, gracious host, delightful company, beloved teacher. Among his students were Wilder Penfield, the authority on memory whom we met in chapter 4; Howard Florey, who won a Nobel Prize for his role in developing penicillin; and Harvey Cushing, who went on to become one of America’s leading neurosurgeons. In 1925, Sherrington astonished even his closest friends by producing a volume of poetry, which was widely praised. Seven years later, he won a Nobel Prize for his work on reflexes. He was a distinguished president of the Royal Society, a benefactor of museums and libraries, and a devoted bibliophile with a world-class collection of books. At the age of eighty-three in 1940 he wrote a bestselling work, Man on His Nature, which went through several editions and was voted one of the hundred best books of modern Britain at the Festival of Britain in 1951. In it, he invented the expression “the enchanted loom” as a metaphor for the mind. And now, unaccountably, he is almost completely forgotten outside his field and not hugely remembered even there. Bryson, Bill. The Body (p. 309). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Bryson, Bill. The Body (p. 309). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Bryson, Bill. The Body (p. 309). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Bryson, Bill. The Body (pp. 308-309). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

— A good, very productive man  

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