Phoenix, London, 1999
This beautiful book can be unreservedly recommended to anyone who wants a non-technical guide to brain research. It is superbly illustrated with clear and colourful diagrams and brain-scan images, and, apart from the pictures that adorn the start of each chapter, eschews the page-padding artwork that clogs up the pages of New Scientist and other popular science publications.
Certainly it is a substantially better buy than Susan Greenfield's "The Human Brain: A Guided Tour", a work devoid of illustrations and often less than lucid.
Needless to say, this comprehensive round-up of scientific theories and findings will provide many useful items for those who find themselves arguing against dualist or mystical accounts of the mind. Concluding the book, Carter writes:
"As the studies in this book show, when we look inside the brain we see that our actions follow from our perceptions and our perceptions are constructed by brain activity. In turn, that activity is dictated by a neuronal structure that is formed by the interplay of our genes and the environment. There is no sign of some Cartesian antennae tuned into another world." (p.331)
The sound combination of Ockhamite parsimony and open-minded awe is well expressed in the book's final sentence:
"There is no need for us to satisfy our sense of wonder by conjuring phantoms the world within our heads is more marvellous than anything we can dream up."
A very worthwhile addition to the library, and an ideal gift.
This review is reproduced by kind permission of The Skeptic.
© Paul Taylor 2001