THE HUMAN BRAIN

A Guided Tour

Susan Greenfield

London, 1997.


The author is Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford Universtity, so this brief guide can be expected to outline the latest news about neural chemistry. There is much here about memory and some mention of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, about which Greenfield has conducted research.

That said, there are signs that this book was written in a hurry. One example occurs in the first few pages:

"the brain has a consistency similar to a soft-boiled egg" (p.4)

"the brain has the consistency of a raw egg" (p.6)

On p.181 we read that,

"short-term memory is just that - lasting less than an hour"

That same facility may let the reader recall that ten pages earlier she writes:

"short-term memory only lasts at most for half an hour."

Of course there's no contradiction here, but why be vaguer on the repeat? These oddities may cause some caution about other generalities as we hurtle along our guided tour.

More serious reservations may arise when Greenfield ventures into philosophical territory. Consider this remark about the relationship between the physical (neural) and phenomenological levels of mental processes:

"Memory is multi-faceted and multi-staged. It is more than a mere function of the brain, as it encapsulates individuals' inner resources for interpreting, in an exquisitely unique fashion, the world around them." (p.187)

Granted that memory is complex, requiring re-construction and interpretation, why can't this be described as a function amongst other interconnecting functions? Where do these inner resources come from, if not brain processes?

On the final page, we seem to have a real muddle:

"My particular view is that mind can only be realized when we are conscious. After all, we lose consciousness when we sleep, but we do not lose our mind. However, mind is meaningless if we are unconscious." (p.192)

Make your mind up.



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PSYCHOLOGY



Paul Taylor 2001