Vernon MountcastleVernon Benjamin Mountcastle was an American neurophysiologist at Johns Hopkins University who discovered and characterized the columnar organization of the cerebral cortex in the 1950s. This discovery was a turning point in investigations of the cerebral cortex, as nearly all cortical studies of sensory function after Mountcastle's 1957 paper on the somatosensory cortex of the cat, used columnar organization as their basis, including the great work of David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel on "What the Cat's Eye Tells the Cat's Brain." In his 1981 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Hubel said Mountcastle's "discovery of columns in the somatosensory cortex was surely the most important contribution to the understanding of cerebral cortex since Ramón y Cajal." In 1978 Mountcastle proposed that all parts of the neocortex operate through a common principle. He wrote...
I wish to explore these ideas, particularly as regards the neocortex, and the general proposition that the processing function of neocortical modules is qualitatively similar in all neocortical regions. Put shortly, there is nothing intrinsically motor about the motor cortex, nor sensory about the sensory cortex. Thus the elucidation of the mode of operation of the local modular circuit anywhere in the neocortex will be of great generalizing significance. This idea is unrelated to the equipotentiality concept of Lashley (1949).In Jeff Hawkins's 2004 book On Intelligence, he said Mountcastle's 1978 article, An organizing principle..., was "the Rosetta stone of neuroscience." Hawkins also says "He [Mountcastle] concludes that there is a common function, a common algorithm, that is performed by all the cortical regions." In fact, Mountcastle only says that the cortical columns have a similar "processing" function. Calling it an "algorithm" suggests it is the unit of "computation."
Hawkins met Mountcastle briefly in 2005 and turned down an offer to work with him at Johns Hopkins. In his 2022 book A Thousand Brains, Hawkins described Mountcastle's 1998 update of his work in the 1970's Perceptual Neuroscience: The Cerebral Cortex: as "a beautiful book," one of his favorites about the brain.
Mountcastle's 2005 book, The Sensory Hand: Neural Mechanisms of Somatic Sensation was the culmination of Mountcastle's lifelong study of the somatosensory system. Normal | Teacher | Scholar