- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 2, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195152425
- ISBN-13: 978-0195152425
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.8 x 6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,408,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Altered Egos: How the Brain Creates the Self 1st Edition
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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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Digital edition.
"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 without 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
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Structurally, Altered Egos is bifurcated into an expository exploration of numerous cases of self-distorting disorders and a philosophical treatise concerning the formation of the self and the emergence of consciousness from the brain. The former is a fascinating and intriguing excursion into a realm of neuropsychiatric disorders that I was unfamiliar with prior to reading this book. Feinberg describes a variety of confabulatory, proprioceptive, and perceptual disorders of past patients, including asomatognosia, a condition following strokes that causes one to “reject, misidentify, or deny a part of their body,” as is exemplified by individuals spookily attributing a left limb to a deceased loved one. The latter section of the book uses this information to illustrate the relationship between the self, a facet of the mind, and the brain. Ultimately, Feinberg advocates that consciousness “emerges” from a “nested hierarchy of meaning and purpose” created in the brain. He suggests that meaning and purpose provide “the constraint that ‘pulls’ the mind together to form the ‘inner I’ of the self.” This “inner I” represents the subjective dimension of the brain and rationalizes the labeling of consciousness as being “emergent.” Consciousness is said to have both an objective and a subjective, first-person reality, the latter of which cannot be reduced to “nothing but” the physical processes of the brain. The mind is, thus, “more than the sum of its parts,” being “causally reducible,” but “ontologically irreducible.”
Altered Egos is a compelling and delightfully comprehensive book. The sheer variety and number of topics covered is astounding. The diversity of disciplinary viewpoints provided (biological, philosophical, psychological) will make the book intriguing for the philosopher, the neuroscientist, and the layman. As a neuroscience student, I found that the disorders discussed were reflective of topics from my classes. The peculiarity of the clinical stories furthered my interests in pursuing a position in the field of neurology. The theories presented in the book also provided me a sense of resolution, as the struggle to reconcile a belief in the irreducibility of consciousness and my own pursuits in neuroscience had plagued me considerably prior to reading. Unfortunately, questions still remain regarding the nature of the mind and consciousness, but these are characteristic of any address of the mind-body problem and are not reflective of any deficit of this book.
Feinberg’s theory presented in Altered Egos is the most intuitively satisfying of the “solutions” to the mind-body problem that I’ve read (along with John Searle’s harmonious “biological naturalism”). The book offers a unique perspective on the metaphysical conundrum that is grounded in neurological case studies, each of which are fascinating accounts on the terrifying and amazing capabilities of the human brain and its ability to alter one’s sense of self. I suggest that anyone interested in neuroscience, philosophy of the mind, or the nature of one’s being read this book.
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.
In the first part of the book, he defines four types of disorders. The first are those that make us block a part of ourselves off as not being part of the self. Stroke victims who disidentify with an arm are one example. They think the arm belongs to someone else, or give it a name and treat it like an annoying friend. Other disorders affect the way we recognize extensions of the self, such as friends or belongings. For example, sufferers of Capgras syndrome, which effects the emotions of recognition, can still see that those around them look like their loved ones. But now feeling the jolt of recognition, they believe that their spouse and children have been replaced by imposters. The third type of disorder, personal confabulation, makes people invent stories about themselves. They may have forgotten their real identity or are in denial of psychological trauma, so they externalize it ("my brother just had a stroke"). The last type of disorder involves people not recognizing themselves in the mirror. These people will even stand in front of the mirror and yell at this mocking person who copies one's own actions.
Then Feinberg presents his theory of how the self is constructed. He's an emergentist: from smaller systems, larger ones emerge that cannot be reduced to their parts. So just as atoms form parts of the cell, which in turn for the cell, so brain cells which form parts of the brain also construct the self. The "self" is not to be identified with one part of the brain, as Descartes thought, but is a dynamic construct emerging from many lower-level functions of the brain. Feinberg postulates two emergentism: that it is unpredictable how lower-level systems create higher-level ones, and that the lower levels are constrained by the activity of the higher levels. So the "self" constrains its parts by ordering them, but the parts constrain the self, as in these neurological disorders. Finally, the "self" as Feinberg describes it is defined by purpose. Rather than some static notion of the soul, the self can be defined as whatever function, purpose, or meaning all the parts of the mind are working in concert toward. It's a telenomic system.
Feinberg's clinical examples are interesting, but I don't see how they connect to the second half of his book. If the self-world boundary as is malleable as he demonstrates, would this not defeat any notion of the self and lead us into Humean non-self? And while I think emergentism is the right direction for philosophers of mind to go in, by no means is it a complete theory. We still don't have a clear idea of how higher levels or organization are formed from lower. Why do certain cells elicit consciousness and not others? Feinberg is better with clinical experience than with philosophy. I would read this book for the first half, but read someone else for the philosophical reflections.