This book examines the basic nature of our personal identity from the point of view of neuropsychology. Julian Baggini gave us a fascinating account of it from the point of view of philosophy last year in his book "The Ego Trick". Hood writes an equally fascinating account to address the question, "What (or who) is the `I' that Descartes refers to when he wrote `I think. Therefore I am'"? The inroads into neuroscience is paving the way we look at things, the way we see others, and most importantly, the way we see ourselves. A decade ago the phrase "My brain made me do it" would have brought howls of laughter from people thinking it might be a spoof on criminal conduct. Read Hood and you may see the serious studies in this field.
The competing theories of Galen Strawson (the "pearl view") and Hume's (the "bundle theory") are examined and Hood tells us that modern science is inclining towards the "bundle theory", namely that our "self" emerges not from an accretion of our past experiences - "a bundling together of these experiences". The "pearl theory" holds that our self is a single immovable entity at the core of our existence.
Arising from this, it will become apparent that if the self is a bundling of one's past experiences, then one's memory is an important factor to be studied. Hood tells us that neuroscience shows that possession of memory and identity is what makes us unique individuals. Hood lucidly explains how experiments show this connection that starts with children from about five years of age. He also tells us how the self of the "moment" differs from the self of the "memory". Citing Daniel Kahnemann (whose book `Thinking Fast & Slow' is an essential reading material for all professionals who make judgments for a living - lawyers, doctors, economists etc), he explains that we have about 600,000 experiencing moments a month, each of which lasts about 2 or 3 seconds, but most are lost. That is why our memory is always fragmented, and why we often believe so strongly that our recollection is correct when it is not.
Next, the nature of human learning is also a critical factor in the development of the self. Hood draws on the studies as to how babies learn things, how adults learn things, and using examples of groupthink - shows how and why we think like the group we are in when, if left alone, we actually think differently. If the self - our self - is an accretion of experiences, built up layer by layer, then the question must arise - are we really in control of our thoughts? Hood spends a couple of chapters on his belief that neuroscience indicates that we do not really have free-will. This is, of course, a controversial topic, but if we are to see both sides of the question, we ought to see Hood's view. Right or wrong, it has the merits of clarity.