- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Crown (July 3, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307985792
- ISBN-13: 978-0307985798
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 26 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars: A Neuropsychologist's Odyssey Through Consciousness Hardcover – July 3, 2018
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“The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars is a work of extraordinary insight and imagination. Broks is a 21st century Dante of the human psyche, guiding us on a journey full of surprise, erudition, and wit.”
—DAVID GEORGE HASKELL, author of The Forest Unseen and The Songs of Trees
"In this gorgeous kaleidoscope of a book, the neuroscientist Paul Broks takes us image by image, story by story, into an exploration of life with all its brilliant hues of grief and despair, joy and resilience, biology and society. There's science here, and curiosity, and humanity, all forming a remarkable portrait of who we are—and who we hope to be."
—DEBORAH BLUM, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of The Poisoner’s Handbook
“Broks weaves many threads—memoir, neuroscience, and metaphysics—into a rich fabric of reflection, speculation and deep feeling. This is a work that defies categorization, fusing non-fiction and imagination into a single instrument of piercing insight and emotional honesty.”
—CHARLES YU, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
"The problem for those who followed Alexander Luria and Oliver Sacks was that it was impossible not to walk in their footsteps, but equally impossible to fill their shoes. The clinical neuropsychologist Paul Broks is one of the few who has managed to rise to the challenge... [Broks has] his own distinctive voice, marked by an unusual combination of analytic thought and poetic lyricism... It is easy enough to understand, as Broks does, that there is no permanent self; that we are always in flux and internally divided. The difficult task is to know how to live in the light of this knowledge. For this you need the kind of insight that comes from close attention to whole human beings, not from analysis of their brain scans. Broks has this kind of insight in spades. Despite, or rather because of, his willingness to stare reality in the face, Broks's book is ultimately uplifting. Without naming it, he seems to capture the spirit of the Japanese concept mono no aware—the bitter-sweet pathos of things."
“In a style sometimes reminiscent of The Last Lecture, Broks blends wonder with pessimistic hope. He adumbrates that there is something unbelievable, perhaps even magical, in the 'absurdity' of consciousness and related phenomena, and he thrills to the precarious individuality of our imaginings. [The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars is] a unique addition to the realm of popular brain science.”
“In this meditative investigation into the nature and history of consciousness, Broks is an engaging Virgil to the reader’s Dante as we tour the Jungian labyrinth of the mind, successfully blending Greek mythology, philosophy, allegory, memoir, case studies, and thought experiments… Broks plants seeds that flower pages later as he explains that our mental landscape seems to extend far beyond the confines of our skull-sized kingdoms, or as Hamlet keenly observed, ‘I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.’”
“More than a compilation of case studies, Broks’s book is a digressive journey through the subject of human consciousness… Like the box of old family photographs Broks achingly describes, this metascience narrative is well worth sorting through.”
"This is a wonderful, strange, and genre-defying book... [The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars] powerfully evokes the beauty and absurdity, the sadness and the mystery, the beating pulse of life."
About the Author
Paul Broks is an English neuropsychologist and science writer. He is a former Prospect columnist, and his work has been featured in The Times, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, and Granta. Trained as a clinical psychologist at Oxford University, Broks is a specialist in clinical neuropsychology and is the author of Into the Silent Land, which was shortlisted for The Guardian's First Book Award.
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The author has produced a multi layered and textured story about the quest for an explanation of consciousness. Scientists, neurologists have been studying the workings of the brain for decades now to explain the phenomenon of consciousness. Philosophers have been grappling for centuries from the time of Socrates with the hard problem of mind-body dualism. But no one I have read has managed to produce such rich and insightful perspectives as Paul Broks in this book that treads a line between fiction and non-fiction, through dark nights amongst bright stars.
How has he done it? The material of his book ranges from grief over his wife’s death from cancer, to scientific studies of the brain, particularly patients with damage to their brains, to philosophy and to Greek mythology and dreams. He then weaves all of these subjects into a flowing tale that offers a unique perspective on a classical mystery. I have read numerous other books on the subject, several of which are noted in this book’s bibliography. But none have the literary power of Brok’s story.
To some the perspective that emerges on consciousness and life after death may be disturbing. Broks is an atheist who sees no evidence of life after death. But the depth of his insights and the literary beauty of his candid and imaginative story provide palliative comfort. Recently I was speaking with a friend about my own book, ‘The Bridge.’ She asked me what place the spiritual might have in a godless world. I tried to offer a few comments about the arts. Today I would respond differently. I would simply offer this book as a gift.
That said, I often found the self-consciously literary style of "The Darker the Night" mannered and irritating. In some cases, the free-associative, unstructured sequence of chapters (doubtless intended to evoke a stream of consciousness) created interesting effects; but in many others, it just seemed disorganized, in need of a good editor. The text veers between a factual memoir, a philosophy textbook, a dream journal, and outright fantasy/science-fiction --- the resulting discontinuities and ambiguities struck me, in a similar way, as sometimes intriguing, often inane. Particularly exasperating were: the game of existential footsie Broks plays with the Greek gods (maybe they’re real! maybe they’re fictional!); the silly interlude featuring an imaginary conversation with C.S. “Jack” Lewis (which raises, but fails seriously to address, questions about how faith alters the grieving process); and the sporadic, bewildering appearances of a time-traveling drunk named Mike (actually the Archangel Michael). In the final pages the latter cryptic character lies at the center of a culminating thought-experiment, a crescendo of contrived writing that I found much more affected than effective. All in all, I consider Broks a good thinker, whose work is marred by its extravagant attempts to be clever and artsy.
I am a survivor of a moderate Traumatic Brain Injury, with a subarachnoid hemorrhage. The circumstance weren't sexy or anything - I had a syncope and fell on a hard concrete floor, the impact of which created a skull fracture in the back of my head along with a coup-contracoup injury. I woke up several days later, and when I say "woke up" I don't mean that literally, exactly. I was told that I never actually lost consciousness, but rather talked, interacted, and so on over those days. However, I have no conscious memory of it, indeed the first thing I remember is laying on a gurney days later, being transferred out of the ICU.
This was over a year ago, and it still haunts me. I've spent a lot of time trying to find meaning in all of that - how the brain can function but the things we take for granted (conscious control of one's actions) seem so fragile. I got quite philosophical in the time after that injury, trying to come to terms with it and the notion that what we call one's "soul" could actually be nothing more than a physical arrangement of neural pathways that are all too easily damaged. Am I the same person today that I was before this injury? Is my identity the same? Did I "die" from that injury and wake up a new person? Why did I get lucky and remain a functional human being while others with the same injury end up dysfunctional and/or dead? I started reading all the philosophy and religious texts and medical studies I could find while I was recovering on bed rest, and I still don't have a good answer.
That's where I was (and still am) when I started reading this book. And while Broks' wife sadly died, which led him on this journey of inquiry and such, I think we both had the same base questions. This made reading this book that much more powerful. Like my quixotic quest, Broks works at mixing all kinds of philosophies and approaches to answer the basic question: What Are We? Are we just a self-sustaining chemical reaction? Are we something more? If so, what?
I think Broks takes the best approach possible, which is to look at all kinds of philosophies (scientific, artistic, religious, etc) with the attitude that they all have something to offer in the way of an answer...but none of them have the COMPLETE answer. Like so many things in our world, the answer is generally somewhere in the middle instead of at the fringes on either side. Moreover, his approach works. It's not self-conscious philosophy that works to rationalize a specific loss. Broks has a genuine drive here, a need to look at a very weighty question and one that has consumed us for centuries. Why do WE have human consciousness, but other life apparently does not? Does a whale consider the nature of the water? Or does that whale simply exist, the same as I did before my consciousness/sense of self clicked back on somehow?
Given all that, the book itself is not THAT easy of a read but I think it is very much approachable to the motivated lay reader. While I had a fairly recent background in reading some of the philosophers he talks about, I don't think a rigorous philosophical education is necessary to get value from this book. It's excellent for those who, like me, yearn for a framework in which to explore one's own humanity and how the basic stuff from which we are made has come together to become something so much more.
I grieve with Broks. I completely understand his drive here. And I am grateful that he has provided a workable framework for me to come to terms with many of the same things he works for too. Respectful to all beliefs, ideas, and so on, it's a very good read and one that creates a lot of thought for the reader.