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Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World's Strangest Brains Kindle Edition
An Amazon Best Nonfiction Book of the Month
Award-winning science writer Helen Thomson unlocks the biggest mysteries of the human brain by examining nine extraordinary cases
Our brains are far stranger than we think. We take it for granted that we can remember, feel emotion, navigate, empathise and understand the world around us, but how would our lives change if these abilities were dramatically enhanced – or disappeared overnight?
Helen Thomson has spent years travelling the world, tracking down incredibly rare brain disorders. In Unthinkable she tells the stories of nine extraordinary people she encountered along the way. From the man who thinks he's a tiger to the doctor who feels the pain of others just by looking at them to a woman who hears music that’s not there, their experiences illustrate how the brain can shape our lives in unexpected and, in some cases, brilliant and alarming ways.
Story by remarkable story, Unthinkable takes us on an unforgettable journey through the human brain. Discover how to forge memories that never disappear, how to grow an alien limb and how to make better decisions. Learn how to hallucinate and how to make yourself happier in a split second. Find out how to avoid getting lost, how to see more of your reality, even how exactly you can confirm you are alive. Think the unthinkable.
From the Inside Flap
Our brains are far stranger than we think. We take it for granted that we can remember, feel emotion, navigate, empathize, and understand the world around us, but how would our lives change if these abilities were dramatically enhanced--or disappeared overnight? Award-winning science writer Helen Thomson has spent years traveling the world, tracking down incredibly rare brain disorders. In Unthinkable she tells the stories of nine extraordinary people she encountered along the way. From a man who thinks he's a tiger to a doctor who feels the pain of others just by looking at them to a woman who hears music that's not there, their experiences illustrate how the brain can shape our lives in unexpected and, in some cases, brilliant and alarming ways.--Nature --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
From the Back Cover
Our brains are far stranger than we think. We take it for granted that we can remember, feel emotion, navigate, empathize, and understand the world around us, but how would our lives change if these abilities were dramatically enhanced—or disappeared overnight? Award-winning science writer Helen Thomson has spent years traveling the world, tracking down incredibly rare brain disorders. In Unthinkable she tells the stories of nine extraordinary people she encountered along the way. From a man who thinks he’s a tiger to a doctor who feels the pain of others just by looking at them to a woman who hears music that’s not there, their experiences illustrate how the brain can shape our lives in unexpected and, in some cases, brilliant and alarming ways.--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B072C7R3HC
- Publisher : Ecco (June 26, 2018)
- Publication date : June 26, 2018
- Language : English
- File size : 1335 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 278 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #264,954 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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I'd strongly recommend the book for anyone who's interested in neuroscience--especially people who enjoyed Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
In the world of DTD, their are other unusual effects such as Visual Reorientation Illusion (VRI's) that are well documented and doing VRI flips is another interesting story. Readers will relate to these stories on some minor level because everyone gets lost, or had a unique experience of how our brains see the world.
Medical professionals should read this book to understand that they need to 'think out of the box' when it comes to our brains.
Helen Thomson is a journalist with a degree in neuroscience. As such she chooses to revive the conceit of Oliver Sacks by describing the life of people who have unusual brains which either give them abilities or disabilities compared to most of humanity. Unlike Sacks, Thomson chooses to describe these people mostly in an outpatient setting—to allow the reader to see them as persons and not as mental patients or as spectacles for a circus.
We thus encounter a man who remembers every detail of his life, a man who sees color auras around people and a doctor who literally feels the pain of his patients. All make for fascinating case studies on their own. But Thomas takes the cases further by summarizing what neuroscientists know about the origin of these conditions.
There is a theme in the work that these people are only extreme cases of capabilities of all human beings. As such, Thomson tends to shun the idea that these people have identified mental illnesses and instead view them as simply differently abled individuals. I have no training in psychology but tend to think there is something useful in labeling what is a healthy human mind and what are clearly aberrations.
I also couldn’t help but think that many of the chapters read like the extended articles frequently appearing these days in periodicals or the internet. I would have preferred more substance and less anecdote but individual readers’ tastes may differ.
Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and learned something about how the brain works as well. Strongly recommend this book to non-experts in neuroscience who want a work with a captivating style which also teaches some basic facts about the marvelous work of nature that is the human brain.
At any rate, because of things like ethics, naturally occurring disorders are one of the main ways through which we specifically understand human brain function, so it's always worth perusing case studies. I didn't find this to be personal to the point of salaciousness or technical to the point of being like a textbook, so it's a decent in-between.
Top reviews from other countries
We get a man with a perfect autobiographical memory, a woman who can’t find her way around (Developmental topographical disorientation), a colour-blind man who sees people with colourful auras (synaesthesia), a man whose personality changed after an electric shock and is now compelled to paint all day (sudden artistic output syndrome), a deaf woman who constantly hallucinates music (Musical ear syndrome, an aural version of Charles Bonnet syndrome), a schizophrenic man who thinks he is a tiger (clinical lycanthropy), a woman completely detached from her feelings (depersonalisation disorder), a man who thought he was dead (Cotard’s syndrome), and a man who can feel what other people feel (mirror-touch synaesthesia). The fact that these disorders have medical names shows that these people are not unique: there is something reproducible and systematic going on here.
The colour-blind synaesthete tale sparks a question. The chapter starts off recounting an experiment demonstrating that people can’t actually see “auras”, and goes on to explain the particular subject’s perception of colours in terms of his synaesthesia. Putting these together: maybe most of those people who claim to see auras aren’t lying, aren’t con artists; maybe they are just mistaken, misinterpreting their own synaesthetic perceptions?
Several of the other chapters make me want to build some sort of unified brain model (I will resist the temptation). This thought initially started on reading Dennett’s Intuition Pumps, which made me wonder if blindsight recognition and Capgras delusion are just two sides of the same coin: emotional and rational perceptions being out of synch. Many of the descriptions here are similar: the brain is a mass of different models – rational, emotional, perceptual, proprioceptual, predictive, generative, and more – and it needs to integrate all of these coherently for “normal” cognition and feeling. If one or more of these models fails to be properly integrated, there appears to be something out of kilter with the world. The brain desperately tries to make sense of these contradictions, and “explains” the situation the best it can, with bizarre consequences. Different models failing to integrate give different problems, helping us understand how they do usually integrate. (So much for simple rational-only models of artificial intelligence.)
So there is much food for thought here, told in an accessible style.
Helen Thomson, a feature writer for New Scientist weekly magazine, writes in a popular science style and takes us on a physical and mental journey to explore the real people and personalities behind some of the world’s strangest brains. (My personal take-away was depersonalisation disorder). ‘Our reality is merely controlled hallucination, reined in by our senses’. But sometimes not.
Having been sold on the fact the book was about the people blessed or cursed with these amazingly different brains I was saddened that the few individuals focussed on were effectively drowned out by stats and information about this and that study. The writing is not great with the narrative meandering and wandering off piste at regular intervals. Such a disappointment.
Books are so subjective and I rarely leave bad book review for this very reason, but I was so disappointed I felt I had to leave a review.