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Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychologyby Paul Broks
"Into the Silent Land is a revealing study of the importance, as well as the limitations, of science in helping to define the nature of self. It's also a fascinating portrayal of bizarre and morbid medical accounts involving the physiology and anatomy of the human brain. Broks fuses this all together through scientific facts and personal anecdotes to create an enjoyable and illuminating collection."
Synopses & Reviews
A finalist for the Guardian First Book Award, and hailed as "a tour de force intertwining of the clinical, the personal, the fictive, and the philosophical" (Kirkus Reviews), Into the Silent Land is a stunning look into how the human brain constructs a "self," or the essence of who we are as individuals.
A neuropsychologist with twenty-five years' experience and a runner-up for the prestigious Wellcome Trust Science Prize, Paul Broks writes with a doctor's precision and clarity in a series of narratives about the fascinating world of the neurologically impaired, delving not only into the inner lives of his patients, but into a deeper understanding of how we define who we are.
Fusing classic cases of neuropsychology with the author's own case studies, personal vignettes, philosophical debate, and thought-provoking riffs and meditations on the nature of neurological impairments and dysfunctions, Into the Silent Land is an illuminating study of neuroscience, and an extraordinary look into the unknown world of the self.
"[I]nterlocking essays that blend brilliantly recounted clinical episodes with questioning, sometimes troubling internal meditations....Studded with dazzling insights and a great deal of food for...thought." Tess Taylor, The San Francisco Chronicle
"With great clarity and easy humor, Broks grapples with philosophical questions....His writing is leavened with wit and quirky personal tales that add a warm touch." Bernadette Murphy, The Los Angeles Times
"While he has readers chewing those insoluble nuggets, [Broks] tells his patients' and his own riveting stories, at least one of which, 'To be two or not to be,' is science fiction of the very highest order." Ray Olson, Booklist
"A tour-de-force intertwining of the clinical, the personal, the fictive, and the philosophical that doesn't always satisfy, but certainly keeps the pages turning." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] gifted writer....His prose is clear, his language concise....[Broks] gives readers entrée to the brains, minds, and behaviors of individuals who lack the awareness that they suffer from a disordered brain at all." Beth Greenberg, The Boston Globe
"Broks, called 'the next Oliver Sacks' by the London press, actually proves himself to be more freewheeling and personal than his acclaimed precursor with this collection of philosophically inclined case studies." Time Out New York
"Writing beautifully about our most unbeautiful cognitive apparatus, [Broks] describes its rumpled surfaces, its network of neurons, its deep, secret spaces with such care that the act itself powerfully illuminates the brain's creative capacities." Lauren Slater, Elle
"[Broks] displays skill at combining disparate elements...and a variety of writing styles and ideas, into a surprisingly satisfying narrative." American Scientist
"In an engaging series of vignettes about neurologically impaired people, Broks eloquently details how he and his colleagues analyze the relationship among personality, performance, and grain anatomy." Science News
"The new Oliver Sacks...knife-edge sharp and uncompromising. Brilliantly unsettling." The Times (London)
"An intriguing investigation of the link between the brain and the mind....Readers who enjoy the case studies of neurologist Oliver sacks will be drawn to this book." S. M. Colowick, Olympian
"[A] unique and fascinating exploration of the brain and mind, unlike any I have ever read....[A] quality of existential uncertainty and exquisite frustration, deftly conveyed...gives Broks's narrative its edge and effect on the reader." Todd E. Feinberg, M.D., Cerebrum
"Broks asks numerous questions that highlight the murky territory where biology meets philosophy....General readers will find this a thoughtful, absorbing, and, at times, humorous book." Library Journal
A neuropsychologist and a runner-up for the prestigious Wellcome Trust Science Prize, Broks writes with a doctor's precision and clarity in a series of narratives about the fascinating world of the neurologically impaired, delving not only into the inner lives of his patients but also into a deeper understanding of how they define who they are.
How does the brain construct a "self," the essence of who we are as individuals? And how does the self respond to the deconstruction of its brain? A neuropsychologist with twenty-five years' experience and a runner-up for the prestigious Wellcome Trust Science Prize, Paul Broks writes with a doctor's precision and clarity in a series of narratives about the fascinating world of the neurologically impaired, delving not only into the inner lives of his patients but into a deeper understanding of how we define who we are. In "The Sea and the Almond," a young woman who suffers from daily grandmal seizures agrees to a radical surgery that involves removal of the amygdala (from the Greek for almond) and part of the hippocampus (seahorse), which is responsible for memory and all conscious recall. "I Think Therefore I Am Dead" is both a meditation on human consciousness and an intimate case study chronicling Brok's efforts in working with a patient suffering from a debilitating illness that has no diagnosis or cure. Broks intersperses his accounts of these rare conditions with illuminating studies of what neuroscience can and cannot teach us about the mechanisms that allow us to define ourselves as individuals.
Into the Silent Land is a collection of case studies and short tutorials on neuropsychology, which is the science of analyzing the relationship between personality, performance, and the anatomical and physiological structure of the brain. Fusing classic cases of neuropsychology with the author's own case studies, personal vignettes, philosophical debate, and thought provoking riffs and meditations on the nature of neurological impairments and dysfunctions.
Some highlights include:
"I Don't Love You Anymore, Do I, Love?": two men who suffer almost mirror image traumatic lesions to the brain learn to cope with the loss of their ability to empathize with other human beings, thus living a life without highs or lows, only sedation. This recalls the classic case of railway worker named Finneas Gage. Gage accidentally had a railroad spike slammed into his head, piercing his frontal lobe. Miraculously, he wasn't killed, but surgeons of the day were unable to extract the spike for fear that it would cause further damage. Thus Finneas was forced to live the rest of his life with the spike in place in his head. As a result of the damage to the lobe however, Finneas would fly into blind rages for no reason at all. Psychologists concluded from this study that hostility is connected to physiological events occurring in the frontal lobe.
"The Sea and the Almond": a young woman who suffers from daily grand mal seizures agrees to a radical surgery that involves removal of the amygdala (from the Greek for almond) and part of the hippocampus (seahorse), which is responsible for memory and all conscious recall. Broks' experiences recall a classic neuropsychological case where a patient named H.M. had intractable epilepsy. The only way to cure the epilepsy was to remove the focus of the seizures, which were starting independently from both temporal lobes. Both lobes were removed and the seizures stopped, but the patient's memory was gone, along with the ability to create new memories. The patient had to be reintroduced to his coworkers on a daily basis, and would mistake pictures of himself for his father.
"The Ghost Tree": A woman infected with a common cold sore virus (herpes simplex) is onset with a severe infection that finds it way into her brain, where large areas of the anterior temporal lobes have been eaten away. As a result, she has a combination of 'fearlessness' (or 'recklessness') whereby she'll walk into traffic, or stand by with a smile on her face during a mugging, while on the other hand cower in fear over an argument on a TV soap opera.
"The Blue Bicycle": A young girl is struck by a car in front of her father while riding her brand new blue bicycle. She loses her ability to judge distances or risky situations, but at the same time develops a rapacious capacity for learning foreign languages. After failing her driving test twice, Broks takes her on a diagnostic driving test that is seemingly banal, until it almost ends in a head on collision. Advised that she shouldn't probably be driving, the girl takes her third driving test and passes.
"Voodoo Child": A factualized case of a man who, catapulted into a midlife crisis, abandons his job, his wife and family, and moves into a new town to start a new life only to discover he has a large, benign, brain tumor that has been eating away at the frontal lobes of his brain for years.
"Swallowing the Dark": The story of "Eggshell Boy," a teenager who fell three stories down an empty elevator shaft and as a result was left with an asymmetrical head "convex on the right, concave on the left, with a deep oval depression like the shell of a hard-boiled egg cracked with a spoon." Broks analyses what remains of a "self" or a "soul" after severe neurological trauma robs a person of everything that makes him unique.
"Einstein's Brain": A curious history of what happened to Einstein's Brain after he died.
"The Visible Man": a stunning Kafkaesque tale that imagines a day in the life of a man whose brain is suddenly visible for everyone to see.
"I Think Therefore I am Dead": both a meditation on human consciousness and an intimate case study chronicling Broks' efforts in working with a patient suffering from a debilitating illness that has no diagnosis or cure.
"To Be Two Or Not To Be": A fantasy in the tradition of the philosophical thought experiment, based on the philosopher Derek Parfit's ideas concerning the nature of personal identity. This is a lively 'Imagine if...' scenario designed to challenge our ordinary intuitions by taking us into imaginary realms where fictional characters find themselves in extraordinary (sometimes technically impossible) circumstances.
About the Author
Paul Broks is Senior Clinical Lecturer & Honorary Consultant in Neuropsychology at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth. He was formerly Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield. He writes regularly about his work for the British magazine Prospect and has been published in Granta and the Daily Telegraph.
Table of Contents
Swallowing the Dark
Different Lives 3
The Space behind the Face 17
The Seahorse and the Almond 22
The Sword of the Sun 39
Soul in a Bucket 42
In the Theatre 57
The Mirror 67
The Visible Man 71
The Spark in the Stone
I Think Therefore I Am Dead 89
Vodka and Saliva 105
Body Art 114
The Story of Einstein's Brain 117
Articles of Faith 123
Right This Way, Smiles a Mermaid 132
No Water, No Moon
The Ghost Tree (1) 147
The Ghost Tree (2) 158
The Dreams of Robert Louis Stevenson 171
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) 181
Mr. Barrington's Quandary 196
Out of Darkness Cometh Light 200
To Be Two or Not to Be 204
Further Reading 537
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