* Lew’s Review … Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter
Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 14, 2012
I am taking a one week course at Oxford (July 2012) … The Brain and the Senses. This is one of the books to read in advance.
It is a fascinating journey through what is currently known (2010) about the way the brain receives information from the outside world, and how this information is categorized, stored and retrieved. There are many examples at an individual level to illustrate some of the experimental results. The graphics are brilliant.
The book is necessarily stronger on the receipt of information than it is on storage and retrieval. I have many margin notes asking the same question about memory, especially about how a memory is retrieved or, as the book argues, re-constructed. How is it done? How? How? This is the stuff of future research and understanding.
I think much of what we think we know on this subject is still in the nature of conjecture, based on research utilizing brain scans to show what part of the brain lights up when various stimuli and tasks are presented. The research field is new and rapidly evolving. In one of my previous lives, as CEO of a biomedical research institute, I learned a little about the objectives and practice of cutting-edge scientific research: everything we think we know is only tentative … everything will eventually be disproved or at least significantly enhanced by new and better research … sometimes proving something is not true is as important as an experiment which confirms your hypothesis … better to have a working hypothesis than no hypothesis at all.
Funny, but my friend who has studied and taught history for over 50 years tells me the same is true of what we think we know of historical events and patterns. What really happened? It depends very much on what facts you are looking at and how those facts were assembled. Are they really facts? It should be humbling to understand the degree of uncertainty about our past as well as our future. Let alone the present, whatever that is.
Two fascinating thoughts (chosen from many possibilities) are particularly related to my experience as a novelist and my current novel-in-progress …
… the process of retrieving memory of things which have actually happened is essentially the same as the process of imagining the future (and thus evaluating prospects and plans) or the process of inventing people and events which never existed (i.e., creating fiction).
… the killing of Jews by the Nazis required a distinct transformation in the behavior of individuals performing such acts which allowed them to carry out horrific acts of violence without being assailed by normal feelings of fear and disgust … afterward, they fell into a state that precluded normal reflection and self-awareness and thus prevented them from acknowledging the awfulness of what they had done (and would do again tomorrow).
In her concluding paragraph, Rita Carter says, “the findings outlined in this book give only the sketchiest impression of the landscape of the mind … yet I believe (it) is already clear (that) there is no ghost in this place (the mind) …what we are discovering is a biological system of awe-inspiring complexity … the world within our heads is more marvelous than anything we can dream up.”
These are the kinds of thoughts stimulated by “Mapping the Mind.” I recommend the book even if your scientific understanding is limited. It will make you think outside your normal box. It will make you more aware of what incredible potentials lie within all of us.