March 15 - Honoring Wilder Penfield

Posted on March 15, 2018

On this date in 1991, Canada honored a brain surgeon by putting his likeness on a stamp.

Wilder Penfield (1891-1976) was not just any brain surgeon. He was an investigator and an innovator. He experimented with neural stimulation - that is, giving a small charge of electricity to a brain cell - and that's how he learned which parts of the brain do what. Some say that he redrew the map of the brain - mapping out the functions of the various regions. He learned about hallucinations, illusions, and déjà vu in a new way. He thought big thoughts, explored deep topics, and wondered about questions that may never be answered.

Penfield was born in Washington state, but he spent much of his childhood in Wisconsin. He went to Princeton University in New Jersey and Oxford University in England. He served as a doctor in World War I in France and did medical student work in hospitals in Maryland and Massachusetts. He also studied with neurosurgeons in Germany.

So...with all of these connections with the U.S., the U.K., France, and Germany - why did Canada honor him with a stamp?

(1) There are no rules about stamps - governments in any nation can, if they choose, honor people from other nations. Grenada had a stamp with U.S. President Ronald Reagan's image; the Gambia honored Hong Kong actor/martial artist Jackie Chan; Ghana chose to feature U.S. actor Sylvester Stallone; Nicaragua had a stamp with U.K. musician John Lennon (the Beatles were a worldwide phenomenon). And that's just a few examples!

American poet and activist Maya Angelou
was featured on a postage stamp from the
African nation of Ghana.

(To be fair, Angelou lived in Ghana for
a few years in the early 1960s.)

(2) In 1928 Penfield moved from the U.S. to Montreal in Quebec, Canada. He worked at a hospital there, taught at a university there, and became a Canadian citizen.

So, yeah, if you live and work about half a century in a nation, that nation has a pretty good claim on you!

Here are a couple Penfield quotes:

Penfield helped to make brain surgery different!

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