The author of Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death tells medical stories of how his team found that some people in vegetative state actually had some brain function, and some subsequently regained some consciousness. The science if fascinating, if a work in progress. The concern, if course, is that although some patients, can indeed “wake up”, it’s completely unclear whether they will regain full consciousness or continue to exist in an in-between state. It seems, for now, that the few complete successes recalled in the book are more flukes than models.
Tag Archives: neuroscience
The Man Who Was Not There: Investigations Into The Strange New Science Of The Self is an enjoyable whirlwind through neuroscience, looking at strange syndromes and disorders through many portraits of unfortunate patients who are not quite sure who they are. It’s a little depressing to see how little we know about what causes all of these woes…
The Man Without a Shadow is an amnesiac, abundantly studied by the heroine, a neuroscientist whose professional fame comes from her exceptional subject. Many professional boundaries are crossed, and in any case the line between studying and exploiting is very porous.
I thought that the author captured in fine and interesting details the travails of the dedicated female scientist in a hostile time and place. The vagaries of memory are also explored in compelling and disturbing ways. The story moves slowly and the end is disappointing, but it lingers in the reader’s brain.
The author of The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get it Back is a university professor who, during a car accident, suffered a disabling concussion the effects of which lasted for years before he found relief in a special neuro-training program. The book follows the familiar arc of recovery memoirs: despair, then redemption. Of course the specific treatment he found is presented as miraculous when it may only work for some, so the later part of the book can rankle. However, the description of his struggles and how concussions are an invisible injury that debilitate the sufferer and startle family and friends is written very openly and movingly.
Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where Things Are is a book about serious science, so as early as page 17 it discusses how opsin helps us detect light — and I will admit that I don’t care to know in that much detail, nor do I think that the densely written page 17 can successfully explain to a novice what a protein is, what active sites on a protein are, and exactly what opsin does. That being said, if you can either muster the patience and courage to dive into the details, or if you have the fortitude to skip over them, you will find plenty of interesting experiments that show how we use our hearing, eyes, and touch to figure out where we are in space and where everything else is.
I was quite disappointed by The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, but I also learned a lot by reading it. Let me explain.
The author is a neuroscientist, and also a mother, who tried to bring together rigorous scientific research and practical advice, but not successfully. So we get detailed descriptions of, say, cannabis activating glutamate receptors (no doubt fascinating, but not to most parents, I suspect), jumbled together with dire stories about adolescents developing schizophrenia after consuming the drug. Apart from the obvious problem that correlation is not causation, it makes the book read like a bad high-school health class, the one that pretends that one glass of wine will make you an alcoholic. It’s a pity because the book also describes important facts for parents who wonder how their almost-adult children fail to plan properly. For instance, I did not know there was such a thing as prospective memory, which allows us to hold in mind the intention of doing something at a future time — and that prospective memory does not get established properly until our twenties (I think it declines later in life, but that’s another story!)
In short, I would have liked less fear mongering and more direct links between research and the real world.
Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind is a little awkward at times, and at times gets into scientific details that I could not quite grasp — but it does a great job of showcasing how amazingly intricate our sense of touch is. Who knew that our skin has four different touch receptors to be able to handle both shallow and deep signals, and signals that are brief of persistent. Thank you, Merkel disks (nothing to do with Angela) that allow us to appreciate the texture of objects! And of course when the author starts discussing patients whose sense of touch is not quite right, it gets even more intriguing.