Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
Neuroscience, emotions and human interraction for the layman
on 17 July 2010
There is no doubt that Robert Winston is a polymath - an eminent fertility doctor who would have aspired to be a neurosurgeon if he had his time again.
The book starts slowly with rather complex descriptions of the discovery of the actions of various regions of the brain, the chemical neurotransmitters that carry nerve impulses round the brain and the specific roles of the most common - glutamate, dopamine, adrenalin, endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin. But Robert Winston has a way of holding the interest through technical sections by telling stories which bring the scientists and their trials and tribulations to life.
He describes the claims of the right /left side advocates but regards them as an oversimplification. Indeed one of the major themes of the book is the theory of the plasticity of the brain and its ability to develop with neurons repeatedly fired on a task strengthening their connection and increasing their supply of neurotransmitter so it becomes easier for them to fire in the future - or to you and me practice makes perfect.
From how the brain works he moves to how emotions are stimulated. The consensus among neuroscientists is that there are four primary emotions - fear, anger, sadness and joy. Some claim perhaps three more but Winston reckons that surprise, disgust and contempt are complex combinations of the primary emotions. Smiling, laughter, hoping and fear are investigated and the widespread desire of all humans to change moods through the use of nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy and LSD.
But I found the fascination of the book grew as he moved onto the necessity for human interaction (solitary confinement is a very effective torture) and how and why, from an evolutionary standpoint, people interacted through love and lying and the fine tuning required of the brain to make continual choices based on the need to survive and reproduce.
I do not think I spoil the enjoyment of the book by revealing that the uplifting conclusion to the book is that we all have extraordinary abilities inside us and the plasticity of the brain throughout life gives us all have the opportunity to develop these abilities.
For my taste it is not Winston's best book, it is not a page turner but it continually drew me back to look round the next corner of the brain.