Top positive review
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cracking the code of the human brain
on 6 August 2011
The author characterises the book in various ways, including "cracking the code of the human brain", but also in terms of explaining human uniqueness - or how we differ from apes. I doubt it does any of these things - it doesn't tell us all that much about apes, for example, and the code of the human brain remains uncracked - but many of the chapters are absolutely compelling for all that.
The books tells us about phantom limbs - how the brain is structured so that they come into being and how to treat them (with mirrors), about how we perceive (it's not simple), about the cross-wiring of the brain for synaesthesia, about mirror neurons which are the key to empathy (and when they're missing, to autism), about how we appreciate beauty (maybe going for the "ultra-normal" stimulus, as gull chicks do, in liking modern art), and about what brain damage can tell us about the unity of the self, our memories, our sense of inhabiting our own bodies (or not, as when it seem wrong to us, or unreal, or we identify instead with the world). A particularly interesting section shows how what psychoanalysts call the mechanisms of defence can all be illustrated in brain damanged patients who have lost the use of limbs but don't recognise this: denial, rationalisation, confabulation, reaction formation, projection, intellectualisation and repression. Not of course that Freud got it all completely right...
It's clear that the author has personally made major advances in scientific understanding, and in the case of phantom limbs to the treatment of patients. He also has a wide-raning curioisty and vision.
Downsides are few: the books is written in an over-chatty style for my taste - try "there's no name for the very real and common delusion in which an older gentleman believes that a young hottie is in love with him and doesn't know it". There's one point where the author says how an Australian journalist contacts him with some news of an experiment, which he doesn't seem to reference - or even say whether or not it is true. And there's a good deal of reference to his collaborators and friends (which doesn't help the forward flow of the argument for the reader who is not interested in scientific credit being given where due in cases of collaboration).
Overall: strongly recommended!