zap neurons into firing

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Senior Member
It appeared in a description of an experiment conducted by Wilder Penfield, who stimulated different spots in the somatosensory cortex (using a mild electric shock). As a result patients felt as if he was touching their cheek, forehead etc.

'In fact, all he had done was zap somatosensory neurons into firing. That firing was, to the patinet, indistinguishable from the firing of the same neurons in response to an actual physical stimulus delivered to some part of the body.'

I guess 'zap into firing' in this context means that he stimulated the neurons, activated them but it was very intensive?
  • Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    'zap' is slang and has no precise meaning. In the previous paragraph you talk about 'a mild electric shock'. This precludes any sense of causing damage. Note that 'firing' applies to the neurons. That is what neurons do - they fire when subjected to a stimulus.

    I'm not certain what you mean by 'intensive' in this context. Do you perhaps mean 'intense' which has a different meaning?


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Zap' means shoot electricity into or onto something - it is at least a moderately strong word, so a 'mild zap' is almost a contradiction. The zap was intense enough to get the neurone over its firing threshold. The use of 'into' for the result is a little unexpected here; it comes from other verbs like 'talk' and 'trick': you talk or trick someone into doing something, and here the zapping is taking the place of talking or trickery.
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