An Anatomy of Thought: The Origin and Machinery of the Mind

Ian Glynn, Author Oxford University Press, USA $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-19-513696-8
How do we know? What do we think? How could a philosophical problem--""the mind-body problem,"" say--induce a headache? What can evolutionary theory, molecular biology, the history of medicine and experimental psychology tell us about the features of human consciousness, and (once again) how do we know? Glynn, a physician and Cambridge University professor, meticulously attempts to answer these questions and more, setting forth the results of all sorts of research relevant to our brains--from 19th-century dissections to Oliver Sacks-like case studies, work with monkeys and supercomputers, and the enduring puzzles of philosophy, which he rightly saves for near the end. After explaining evolution by natural selection and ""clear[ing] away much dross,"" Glynn lays out the experiments and theories that have shown ""how nerve cells can carry information about the body, how they can interact"" and how sense organs work; demonstrates the ""mixture of parallel and hierarchical organization"" in our brains and ""the striking localization of function within it""; considers where neuroscience is likely to go; and admits that, among the many fields of exciting research just ahead, ""we can be least confident of progress [toward a complete, scientific] explanation of our sensations and thoughts and feelings."" Other recent explaining-the-brain books have sometimes advanced simplistic, or implausibly grand, claims about the nature and features of consciousness in general. Instead, Glynn offers a patient, informative, well-laid-out researcher's-eye view of what we have learned, how we figured it out and what we still don't know about neurons, senses, feelings, brains and minds. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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