Paul Broca

On this date in 1824, Pierre Paul Broca was born in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, France. He began attending medical school when he was only 17 and graduated at 20, and later earned degrees in mathematics, literature and physics. Broca went on to become a professor of surgical pathology at the University of Paris, and was an accomplished anatomist who advanced understanding of speech production in the brain. His most important achievement was discovering Broca’s area, a region of the brain responsible for speech production. His work was also influential in cancer pathology and treatment of brain aneurysms. Broca founded the Anthropological Society of Paris in 1859, and his findings in anthropology often contradicted biblical teachings. Broca himself died, ironically, of a brain aneurysm.His brain was preserved after his death, becoming the inspiration for Carl Sagan’s 1974 book Broca’s Brain.

According to The End of the Soul by Jennifer Hecht, Broca thought that the more educated humans were, the less religious they would become. Broca also firmly supported natural selection: “Far from blushing in shame for my species because of its genealogy and parentage, I will be proud of all that evolution has accomplished.” (quoted in Hecht) D. 1880

“[Religion is] nothing more than a type of submission to authority.” 

—Paul Broca in Bulletins de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris, via Jennifer Hecht, The End of the Soul

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

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