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Altered Egos: How the Brain Creates the Self Hardcover – January 15, 2001

16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195136258 ISBN-10: 019513625X Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Feinberg is a neurologist whose treatment of patients with bizarre mental illnesses has led him to ponder that sense of mental unity we call experience. As brain research has progressed, that sense has remained stubbornly resistant to explication; indeed, it has grown more mysterious even as the anatomy of the living brain has become well understood. Feinberg frequently iterates this paradox before propounding his answer to it; before then, he recounts patients who exhibited, following an injury to their brains, a drastic degradation in self-awareness. Previously ordinary people can no longer recognize themselves in mirrors; believe that their limbs belong to somebody else; and, if blinded, insist their vision is 20/20. To Feinberg, these symptoms reinforce his impression of the self's malleability and initiate his argument, with references to Descartes, about how the brain shapes the self. He offers, after refuting notions that the organ has a locus for the self as it does for vision, a version of the self-as-emergent-phenomenon idea. Avoiding undue technical jargon, Feinberg's presentation ably elucidates for general readers the material/ethereal nexus of self-perception. Gilbert Taylor
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"Altered Egos offers us a dazzling array of neurological syndromes to show how delicately constructed is our sense of self...The shock of such tales is to see how distorted your mental realm can become withour you ever knowing the difference." --New Scientist

"Anyone perplexed by the riddle of consciousness--and who is not these days?--should read Todd Feinberg's bold, energetic account of how a brain makes a mind." --John Horgan, author of The Undiscovered Mind

"A fascinating book. I was astonished to find out that one of my favorite film characters, Dr. Strangelove, is actually displaying signs of "alien hand," a medical syndrome. There are many real-life case studies in this book used to explain the way the human mind invents and reinvents itself. A must read!"--Gus Van Sant, film director

"This is an ambitious work, tackling no less than the mind-body problem. Amazingly, it is successful in that it offers a new way of thinking about problems of self, subjectivity and meaning . . . I am extremely enthusiastic about this book." --Martha J. Farah, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania

"In the tradition of Jackson, Critchley, and Sacks, Todd Feinberg melds clinical wisdom, impressive scholarship, and profound philosophical insight to produce a lucid and enchanting account of what determines our daily actions and experiences. Far beyond the tired genre of "neurostories," Altered Egos examines the souls behind the symptoms to give the reader a stunning appreciation of how all the aspects of our lives that we take for grantedour perceptions, memories, feelings, and beliefsare actually sculpted and crafted from myriad experiential elements that can only be dissected and examined under the harsh lens of injury or disease. Above all, Altered Egos shows us how intentionalitythe purposeful seeking of meaningis what distinguishes us from both beast and computer, and this warm and thoughtful book provides a blueprint of what it truly means to be a human being."-- Laurence Miller, Ph.D., author of Inner Natures and Freud's Brain

"Altered Egos combines philosophy and psychology with case histories of neurological and psychiatric patients to paint a novel picture of how the brain makes the self. It's fascinating reading, start to finish. -Joseph E. LeDoux, Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science, New York University, and author of The Emotional Brain


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 205 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (January 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019513625X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195136258
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,801,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Nunnally on February 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I love books like these because I am fascinated by the brain, so I had to try it when I heard Dr. Feinberg on NPR. He does not disappoint those of us who enjoy books on the wilder side of neurology. He is very good at explaining all the most bizarre behaviors in fairly simple language, and his drawings of the brains of his patients were an outstanding addition.
I felt his theories of how the brain constructed the self were thought-provoking, but I don't think he spent enough time on them. If he had fleshed them out a little more, I would have given the book five stars.
However, if you like Oliver Sack's accounts of his patients, you'll like this book, too.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kieran Fox on November 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
To present an overview of some of the more spectacular examples of neurological disorders, to define and elaborate on a notion of the 'self' or 'I', and to weld together a solution for the mind-body problem (now become, for many scientists, the mind-brain problem), all in 150 pages, is a very tall order. Todd Feinberg takes a stab at it in this book, and though I found it highly readable and very thought-provoking in places, I found it unbalanced and the 'theory' or solution to the mind-brain problem entirely unoriginal.

This book was assigned for a grad seminar in Cognition that I'm taking and served as a launching pad for discussions of various disorders alongside scholarly papers, and the relation of disorders in specific subsystems to higher cognitive processes and indeed the 'sense of self', and in this capacity it served really well. Even though in many ways my program's (Psychology/Neuroscience) bread and butter is strange disorders resulting from unlikely brain lesions, Feinberg threw quite a few new ones at me I'd never heard of, such as people who have the specific disorder of not being able to recognize their own face in mirrors or other reflective surfaces - but only their own! In that respect too, it was great for getting an overview of some of the very bizarre disorders that can affect people and how these relate to sense of body, personal goals, etc.

Where I began to lose some admiration for the book is in its strange pacing. The first third reads like straight case studies of odd disorders. In the second third Feinberg starts drawing on mythology and popular folklore and contrasting these beliefs (such as that of the Doppelganger or the shadow) with perceptual disorders due to brain damage, sometimes with great insight, sometimes - not so much.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Altered Egos by Todd Feinberg is a superbly written, fascinating account of a doctor's observations of his brain injured patients. Dr. Feinberg compassionately portrays their histories in riveting case reports and subsequently anchors the rich case material in philosophical and neuroscientific theories. Examination of alterations in the self that result from damage to the brain provides the basis for Dr. Feinberg's groundbreaking discussion of the complexities of the self. Dr. Feinberg artfully presents his theory of the nested hierarchy of consciousness. This book is a must read.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By "brainmeister" on June 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There has been a good deal of writing about the brain and mind of late, but I can't recall a more enjoyable and thought provoking read than Dr. Feinberg's new book "Altered Egos".I first heard Dr Feinberg on NPR radio and I went right out to buy his book. The first part relates numerous fascinating case studies of patients with brain damage who experience an alteration in their sense of self.For example, some patients misidentify their spouses,as in the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime ("This is not my Beautiful Wife"). Other cases don't recognize their own arms; still others who suffer from a condition known as "alien hand syndrome", might even attack themselves. In the later sections of the book, Feinberg uses these cases to explore how the many areas of the brain that contribute to the self combine to create a unified self and an "inner I". In simple language that is accesible to the non-professional, Feinberg draws on basic principles in neurology and philosophy and presents his case that the brain/mind is a "nested hierarchy of meaning and purpose." He argues convincingly that this nested hierarchy is the final irreducible reality of what and who we are. I personally found the combination of neurology and philosophy in this book exciting, and the best part was that I found the writing not just understandable, but fun. Feinberg's book is a must read for anyone who has wondered what it really is to be a person.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Egert on June 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have taken the time to read Dr. Feinberg's book not once, but twice, in order to get its full flavor. As one practices law and who deals with clients with neurological injuries, both as injury victims and the elderly I am amazed at how well the author explains the nuances between mind and "self" or as I like it: the way one presents him or her self to the world.
The book is very readable and does not contain any pedantic phrases or highly technical scientific terms that are often replete in such texts. Instead it very ably explains much of what needs to be known about the brain.
Dr. Feinberg's insight should inspire other researchers and academics to continue their inquiry into the function of the brain so that we can all become more aware and knowledgable about ourselves and those around us.
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