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Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (April 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802141285
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802141286
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #645,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

English commentators liken Broks to Oliver Sacks, which is high praise but off the mark. Sacks relates whole cases, such as "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," laying out the brain physiology and the panoply of behavioral distortions involved in neurological abnormality. Broks, a psychologist rather than a physician like Sacks, uses cases as jumping-off points for essays in search of personality, unique consciousness, the soul. He believes there is something in the brain that neuroscience may never find or explain, and that gives each of us the sense of self. Moreover, he posits that dualism is inescapable for consciousness, which demands that each of us discriminate between physical and mental "parts" of the self, despite the inseparability of those parts. While he has readers chewing those insoluble nuggets, he tells his patients' and his own riveting stories, at least one of which, "To be two or not to be," is science fiction of the very highest order. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A blurb on the cover touts neuropsychology Professor Broks, author of this intriguing book, as "The new Oliver Sacks." While any writer on neuropathology would be flattered to be compared to the renowned Dr. Sacks, whose books include the fascinating The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other clinical tales (1987), I don't think such a comparison is fair to either man.

While Broks and Sacks write about the sometimes bizarre consequences of neurological disorders, they do so from a different perspective. Sacks is more tightly focused on the patient and the pathology whereas Broks concentrates more on his personal experience as a neuropsychologist and the philosophic and emotional consequences of those experiences. Furthermore, while Sacks writes with an uncommon clarity and eloquence, Broks relies on a more literary style with excursions into memoir, story (sometimes reminding me distantly of Borges), Socratic dialogue, and dream sequence.

Each chapter in the book is a personal experience essay. Some chapters recall patients with disorders, some do not. Some chapters are intensely personal, as is the final chapter on the experience of his wife's breast cancer. Others are almost completely philosophical. What can pathology, especially neuropathology, teach us about what it means to be human and to be self-aware is what Broks is asking in all of the chapters, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely. His answer is equivocal and meandering; in short he isn't sure. I respect that because I'm not sure either, and I don't know anyone who is.

Broks begins by experiencing the pulsating brain as raw meat. He is mesmerized by the "absolute conviction" that in the flesh "behind the face" being probed by the surgeon, "there's no one there." (p.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Everything we know or think or feel is somehow processed within the contents of our craniums. Thoughts happen without our thinking about making them occur or about the incalculably complex neuronal interactions that would make them happen. How can it possibly happen that intracranial meat makes mentation? Check with an expert, like Paul Broks, who is a British lecturer and consultant in neuropsychology, the study of brain processes that produce thought and behavior. In _Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology_ (Atlantic Monthly Press), he will bring you up short: "My area of supposed expertise, neuropsychology, is the subject about which I feel the most profound ignorance." He cannot satisfactorily account for how the brain generates conscious awareness. He reflects that this is something like finding out that your airplane pilot knows nothing of lift, drag, and so on. And yet, the patients he describes in his book, and his own introspection, and his fictional thought experiments are so strange that readers will be amazed that they could have ever taken themselves (or their _selves_) for granted.
The people Broks sees in his clinic are those with damaged brains of some sort, "thought experiments made flesh." This is the territory previously explored for us by Oliver Sacks, whom Broks names as an influence on his own thinking and writing. Especially illustrative are the split brain patients, those who have had the cables cut from right brain to left, usually to try to short circuit seizures. It is possible to get a sedative to one side of such brains and then to the other, so that clinicians can interview only one half-brain at a time. In such a patient, Naomi, Broks finds, "Ms Left-brain was talkative and cheerful.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Taos Turner on October 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is an extraordinarily interesting book. I say this as an average reader and not as someone with training in neuropsychology or neurosurgery.
This will be of interest to anyone who is curious about life in general, but it will be greatly appealing to psychology and philosophy buffs. The book will be of special interest to anyone interested in the so-called mind-body problem.
What is the nature of our identity as individuals? Do we have a soul? What is the difference between a soul and a mind? Are we nothing more than the grey matter encaged inside our skulls? The author, Paul Broks, does not provide new or even concrete answers to these questions. But he explores them in hugely entertaining ways. This is not a dreary, poorly written book on psychology, philosophy or personally identity theory. It is an exceptionally entertaining look at the brain and how its defects can affect our personality and sense of identity.
Broks is a British neuropsychologist. He makes the book enjoyable by telling incredibly interesting tales about his patients and their problems. I would recommend this book to just about anyone, not only those people who have a background in this field. It is a pleasure to read. Moreover, at only 242 pages, most readers will be able to finish the whole book in just a couple of days. But they may be sorry when it is finished.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on July 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
There's a certain morbid fascination with tales of brain disease and damage. The horror of the woman who lost 23 years in the blink of a stroke. The woman whose consciousness sometimes vanished while her body continued to go through the motions. The man who can no longer feel emotions. The man who feels too much. The man who relives the exact same emotion with every recall, like reliving a traffic accident over and over, yet can no longer read people's expressions or hear words other than literally.
British neuropsychologist Broks studies what happens to people when particular parts of their brain are damaged. He understands our morbid fascination and has made it his quest: where and what is, consciousness? And what makes us who we are? "But when it comes to understanding the relationship between the brain and the conscious mind, my ignorance is deep and there is nowhere to turn."
This is the theme of his first book of essays, a theme which deals with our worst fears - becoming someone else. Like the man who wearied of his boring suburban life and left his family and job to live a more bohemian existence. A few years later when his brain tumor was revealed and removed, he woke asking for his wife and kids.
In his pursuit of consciousness Broks also explores out-of-body experiences and dream imagery, like that which helped Robert Louis Stevenson create "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." He provides thought experiments and ends with a sci-fi story which aptly (and entertainingly) frames the dilemma of consciousness and body and where the "I" begins and ends.
Though Broks occasionally goes on at too great a length, his unanswerable question is posed from many though-provoking, and occasionally startling, directions. Those most interested in brain physiology and behavior should stick to Oliver Sacks, those with more philosophical inclinations will definitely enjoy Broks.
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