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The Private Life of the Brain: Emotions, Consciousness, and the Secret of the Self Hardcover – May 29, 2000
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How does the human brain produce your private world?
Critically acclaimed neuroscientist and author Susan Greenfield, who holds the prestigious position of Director of the Royal Institution in England, weaves together a thought-provoking examination of childhood experiences, primal emotions, such as fear and euphoria, and the effects drugs have on our personalities to probe the most intriguing mystery facing today's scientists: How does the human brain create consciousness and a unique sense of self?
In this absorbing, lyrical exploration, Dr. Greenfield presents a provocative new theory that treats emotions as the building blocks of our consciousness and provides an illuminating glimpse into the human brain that reveals the astonishing essence of who we are.
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Bookcovers on my hardcover and paperback editions (one was a gift) better than bland blue on Amazon site.
The author tries to describe how brain states relate to states of experience; by finding common ground between many extreme experiences. Her elegant (if not original) thesis is that patterns of connectivity between massive numbers of neurons determine our overall state of consciousness. States vary, according to this theory, by how large the interconnected clusters of neurons are, and how rapidly they turnover from one cluster to another. Neuroses and depression reflect a kind of stuckness in wide scale static networks of associations. States of intense sensation all involve "losing our mind" in the sense of dismantling these widespread networks and replacing them with many small networks that rapidly switch from one to another, keeping us trapped in the here and now.
We peer into the life of drug addicts, the fearful, the schizophrenic, and small children, to find some remarkable similarities in their experience. Then we see how the experience is so different for the depressed and those in pain. By comparing these extremes, and comparing the extremes to the way we normally feel, the authors' thesis begins to come to life.
This is a fascinating attempt at a framework for relating brain states and states of consciousness that has a lot of potential, but is clearly still a skeleton. It does, however, make a number of testable predictions discussed in the final chapters, which distinguish this book still further from the usual speculations about how the brain produces conscious experience.
On the other hand, in some ways, there is more missing than presented here. The theory of neural connectivity is very vague and makes no inroads to explaining just why a complex neural network should produce a mind. The implication is almost that arbitrary complexity should suffice, but this clearly isn't the case. Sensory networks seem to possess qualities of experience, while motor networks do not. There is something more in the networks that give rise to higher mental qualities than just complexity itself, and the author is very vague in this critical area.
Although the book seems to be a bit rambling, this is because it covers a lot of territory-but then there is a lot of territory to cover: brain anatomy-physiology, chemistry, neuro-connections, diseases, emotions, consciousness and the emergent self. Probably because she is a pharmacologist and physiologist and most especially a scientist, she approaches her subject by dividing it into aspects that illuminate these characteristics and give rise to testable hypotheses regarding the inner workings of the brain and mind. The chapter headings are therefore: 1) The Idea (the problem of consciousness), 2) The Story So Far (a history of the theories of mind), 3) The Child (early consciousness), 4) The Junkie (pain, euphoria, neuro-effective and neurophysiological chemicals), 5) The Nightmare (loss of consciousness), 6) The Depressive (highs and lows of consciousness), 7) The Human Condition (emotions and a theory of consciousness), 8) The Answer (the wrap up). Certainly much of the material, especially in the first two chapters, is a recap of the work of others. This is the usual approach to a topic about which one wishes to introduce new information; first you inform your reader of what has been done and by whom and how it fits with what you are yourself doing. Much of this may be new to those who have not studied anything about mind-brain research, but for those who have the names will be familiar: Edelman, Aleksander, Chalmers, Crick and Koch, Calvin, and Dennett, among others. In line with this style of authorship, most of the bibliography Greenfield cites is in the form of articles in prestigious professional journals from the 1980s to the 1990s (the book was published in 2000). One finds here periodicals like Science, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Neurology, Journal of Cell Science, etc. Most of these entries will probably not interest any but the professional in the field. Fortunately the author has done most of the work herself and puts the research into understandable perspective for the amateur.
For myself, I found some of the information very interesting, even useful in my profession. I had heard of and even seen ecupuncture use to control some types of pain, but had felt that it was all a placebo effect. Professor Greenfield pointed out, however, that research on the topic reveals that naloxone (Narcan) can reverse the effects of ecupuncture just as it can the effects of narcotic analgesics. Since I've given naloxone to over narcotized patients (it's preferable to waking them up and asking them to "breathe") I have seen its effects. The knowledge that it is effective in reversing ecupuncture suggests that while the effect of ecupuncture might be "in the mind" it is also legitimate and physiological. I also found the information on brain physiology/chemistry in analgesia and anesthesia informative, since I work in Recovery Room and ICU nursing where I see the effects of these drugs are often very individual.
As to the topics of mind, consciousness and self I would say that the author's thesis is far more convincing than any other I've read so far, if for no other reason than that she offers substantial physiological and chemical proof in favor of it and that it gives rise to testable hypotheses. As she writes: "The key concepts arising from this book are as follows: (1) emotion is the most basic form of consciousness; (2) minds develop as brains do-both as a species and as an individual starts to escape genetic programming in favor of personal experience-based learning; (3) the more you have of (1) at any moment, then the less you have of (2), and vice versa. The more the mind predominates over raw emotion, the deeper the consciousness (pp. 181-182)."
A very informative if somewhat complex book.
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and no "transmitter chemical for" a particular human
behaviour or cognitive function. I.e.Read more