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180 of 182 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars peristaltic reflex or peristaltic cognition?, June 14, 2005
This review is from: The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine (Paperback)
This has been a challenging book to read, but well worth the effort. It is a peculiar mix of memoir and introductory textbook on the enteric (gut) system. I found myself woefully unprepared to consume the text. Gershon has tried to write for the lay reader, but that lay reader had better be comfortable with organic chemistry. Despite the jargon, Gershon's enthusiasm is infectious. This would be a great gift for any pre-med student in need of inspiration.

The title is somewhat misleading. 'The second brain' is a catchy phrase, but only token effort is made to prove the assertion. In simple terms, Gershon argues:
1. At the cellular level, enteric neurology uses the same building blocks as spinal neurology, so there is no evidence enteric neurology couldn't be a second brain.
2. The fundamental process managed by enteric neurology is the peristaltic reflex.
3. The peristaltic reflex requires sophisticated neurological controls for managing
a) motion of food through the gut
b) control of pH, viscosity, appropriate digestive enzyme, etc.
4. Since the gut can function adequately despite cutting the neural connection between spine (brain) and gut, the neural mass in the gut must constitute an independent cognitive center (brain).

The first 100 pages address Gershon's efforts to prove enteric neurology uses the same neurotransmitters as the spinal chord. The second 100 pages offers a tour of the gut, starting at the mouth and walking down the lining to the colon. The final section provides a blow-by-blow description of his lab's trial-and-error experimental approach to enteric developmental neurology, with emphasis on microbiological techniques for examining the neural crest's role. There is little or no text defining the systemic nature of a 'brain', and then asking if the enteric neural system qualifies for the title 2nd brain. In short, Gershon avoids the quagmire of differentiating peristaltic reflex from peristaltic cognition.

Since one cannot address this question without assimilating most of the material Gershon presents (perhaps without the historonics), and the book is so much fun as it is, who am I to complain?

Important subtopics:
The academic battles Gershon fought to make enteric neurology an accepted academic field of study.
How 17th century European poisons help illuminate enteric neurology.
How cholera is perfectly designed to fool enteric defenses (including enteric neural signals).
A detailed review of developmental issues producing aganglionic megacolon (Hirschsprung's Disease)

Scattered about are surprising literary references:

"[the bowel's lining is] very much like the fields of Agincourt after Henry V finished dealing with the French army, a turf littered with the rotting remains of dead soldiers. The soldiers in the bowel, of course, are fallen enteric nerve cells..."

"Functional bowel disease is what Winston Churchill called the Soviet 'Union in 1939: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

Gershon concludes with a wonderful, and very personal, answer to his recently deceased father's often asked question: 'what practical benefits does your research offer?'
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 10, 2007 3:55:34 PM PDT
As a neuroscientist, I found this review very helpful, giving me the book's main thesis, as well as a good feel for the book's style and substance.

Posted on Oct 12, 2009 11:48:53 AM PDT
good, incisive comments & description. (I've reread the book at least three times as a layman)
What I'd love to see is better explication of a sub-thesis: That the division of the nervous system into sympathetic/parasympathetic is an oversimplification, and gratuitous. Gershon goes back to the original investigator from whose research the characterization was formed (in error, acc to Gershon)
The sad part if you have motility disorders, is that the new science of neurogastroenterology is so rudimentarily fleshed out that we really don't have an exact description of the anatomy & physiology of the ENS, thus the poor sufferer is at the mercy of the peregrinations of medical personnel attempting to treat what they have no idea exists! Gershon, a very real human, sympathizes while bemoaning the fate of would-be medical researchers stymied by more glamorous areas getting the grant money desperately needed by motility researchers.

In reply to an earlier post on May 23, 2014 10:27:35 AM PDT
Harv, the half truth of sympathetic/parasympathetic is "put right" in the topic of the Three Selves. Our cerebral and gut brains are anatomical level of the two lowest selves of the Three Selves that make up the adult psyche. When starting from this whole and then working towards the parts, the tail of the dog is no longer mistaken for the body of the dog.

Health Intuitive Bruce Dickson http://www.healingtoolbox.org supports people with Health Intuitive sessions by phone-Skype. Initial gift sessions on request. He writes on Best Practices in Holistic Self-Healing (15 books) available http://www.amazon.com/Bruce-Dickson-MSS/e/B007SNVG46
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