When you want to zap a few cells.
In order to explore the brain, early research would often destroyed a portion of the brain and then observe the outcome. The purposeful destruction of a cell or group of cells is called ablation.
Napoleon Bonaparte had heard of Gall’s phrenology and asked (ordered) his scientists to find out if it was true. They chose Jean Pierre Flourens to do the research. Flourens was a new doctor but an accomplished researcher. He decided that the best way to understand the human brain was to start with animals.
Using rabbits and pigeons, he set about his task in a systematic fashion. Flourens ablated (destroyed) a portion of the brain and observed the effect. He selected an area and then watched to see if the rabbit still hopped.
In a broader sense, Flourens showed that removal of the cerebellum impaired coordination, and that destroying the medulla oblongata causes sudden death. Similarly, removal of one hemisphere impairs perception and function of the other side (left hemisphere runs right side).
Flourens proved that different regions of even small-brained animals do have different functions but that fine point discriminations were not possible.
Flourens major contribution was to show that the scientific approach was more useful than the correlational method. Finding similarities is a start but an experimental investigation is even better.
Today we use ablation to destroy select heart or brain cells that are misbehaving. In addition to heart anthemia and epilepsy, ablation is used to destroy tumors and cancers.
Although you’re probably not working with rabbits and pigeons, remember Flourens when you are troubleshooting a computer problem or repairing your yard’s sprinkler system. What happens if I do this? What happens if I do that?