What's going on in there? One of the great scientific and philosophical mysteries is how a few pounds of wet, salty cobwebs can give rise to the rich experience that we call consciousness. Oxford neuroscientist Susan Greenfield peers inside the dimly lit skull to show us what she thinks is going on in The Private Life of the Brain. Greenfield has a facility for explaining tricky scientific concepts in language that can engage any reader. She presents the basics of contemporary thought on consciousness as they relate to her own theory, which involves a continuum of experience between sensual, emotional grounding in the surrounding world and rational, cognitive withdrawal into mental life. Arguing from a wide range of animal and human research, and drawing on the work of philosophers John Searle and Daniel Dennett, she makes her case compellingly but gently, granting that other theories might also hold in this still-uncharted territory. Looking in depth at depression, drug use, and fear, Greenfield shows how each is explained by her continuum theory and how each relates to the life of the human organism as a whole. Could it be true that as our minds work harder, our hearts lose some feeling, and vice versa? It's an intriguing, thought-provoking idea, one that alone makes The Private Life of the Brain essential reading for minds seeking self-enlightenment. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
How are you feeling today? Who might you be? And what do those frequently asked, but profound, questions have to do with each other? An Oxford University brain researcher and the director of Britain's Royal Institution, Greenfield (Journey to the Centers of the Mind) has entered the crowded field of explain-the-brain books with a sophisticated, memorable and accessible set of arguments. Other popular brain books have begun or ended with language, with philosophy, or with disease; Greenfield starts with emotions. She gives readers long looks at the structure of the brain, at the chemical work of neurotransmitters, at young children's behaviors and neural development, and at the effects of psychoactive drugs, from alcohol to morphine. Despite the current excitement about brains and genes, she reminds us that "the effects of the environment" through childhood and beyond create a "personalization of the brain," a succession of outward experiences that lead our cells and neurochemical processes to forge complex neural connections that complicate our built-in emotions. Your personalized brain, with its complex "nets," gives you the consciousness that modifies your feelings now: your sense of self keeps your passions in check. But extreme emotions and experiences--"road rage," or a rave--weaken those "nets" and consequently weaken consciousness, making you more like an animal, or an infant, than usual. "The more the mind predominates over raw emotion," writes Greenfield, "the deeper the consciousness." Greenfield presents a subtle model in everyday language, introducing her readers skillfully to her precedents and rivals in neurobiology and cognitive science. Readers who care about minds and brains will have strong feelings about Greenfield's thoughts--and many likely will feel pleased. Agents, John Brockman and Katinka Matson. (May)
See all Editorial Reviews
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.