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Not What I was Expecting . . .
on June 10, 2009
I was expecting an Oliver Sacks sort of experience, in which she both provided us with a great deal of scientific information regarding the brain, thoughts and consciousness while simultaneously weaving us a larger narrative in which she pondered more existential questions about the nature of being and consciousness itself. That's not this book. Rather, the book has an odd sort of disjointed feel to it.
The first chapter explains how own unique perspective on the stroke experience. SHe was both a researcher in psychology and anatomy at harvard University, and an individual with a great deal of personal experience in the fields of psychology and consciousness. She describes growing up with a schizophrenic brother who was a mere year and a half older than herself -- thus, from the beginnings of her life, she has been fascinated with questions about how our brains work, what we perceive and why as humans sometimes perceive things so differently.
By far the best chapter in my mind is the second, where she describes what actually happened the morning she had her stroke -- on both a physiological and emotional level. In essence, she reconstructs the event, noting that "I was feeling this while this was happening in this section of my brain." She explains, for example, why it was impossible to dial 911, since during the experience she would have been hard pressed to understand what a phone was, what one did with it, what numbers were or how they related to the telephone.
The chapters on her recovery are where the book starts to get weak. Her overall message in the last half of the book is admirable, but somewhat poorly executed. However, her overall message, that she chose to reconstruct many of the skills and experiences of her earlier life, but that she enjoyed the "blessing" of leaving the emotional baggage behind, of grabbing hold of the experiences without grabbing hold of the emotions which they engendered, is excellent -- and fascinating. It calls into question big issues like "who am I and where does my identity come from. If I change my history, my past and how I feel about situations, am I in essence now a different person?" But it's a message that shouldn't have taken seventy some pages to convey, nor will everyone else's experience necessarily parallel her own. Worth a quick read, but not the solid, weighty analysis I was expecting.