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See Inside June/July 2006

Beyond the Neuron Doctrine

New experiments are settling a century-long debate between two camps over how neurons communicate. The surprise: both sides are right

I sliced the heart in two with a big kitchen knife. All was revealed--the four chambers separated by moist, gristly valves that suck blood into auricles and squeeze it out ventricles. Eleven years old and fascinated, I asked my mother if, next time, she could bring me a brain. When she returned from the butcher shop with a calf brain, I beamed and cleaved the melon in two. But inside I saw nothing notable. Just a hollow cavity at the core of a fleshy mush.

How did it work? Books offered names for its bumps and folds but failed to provide a detailed explanation for how this supreme organ functioned. My parents, teachers--no one seemed to have the answer.

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