The Missing Moment: How the Unconscious Shapes Modern Science

Robert Pollack, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-395-70985-6
In a stimulating critique of modern science, Pollack (Signs of Life), a Columbia University biology professor, challenges conventional notions of consciousness by arguing that the past is an inextricable component of the mind's grasp of the present. He begins with a look at sensation: our five senses, he maintains, are products of ancient choices, fixed in the human genome millions of years ago through natural selection. With a nod to Freud, whom he calls an experimental psychologist, Pollack then points to strong evidence that repressed memories, hidden from consciousness in untapped neural networks, do exist, setting the stage for conflicts in adult life. He also reports that within the past few years scientists have discovered how a 40-cycle-per-second wave, arising from deep inside the thalamus, sweeps through the entire brain, constantly binding together sensory information and memories. Synthesizing these findings, Pollack contends that our minds function only via continual reference to the past. The whole scientific enterprise, he argues, is just as prone to unconscious fears and fantasies as is any person. The collective myth of science and of biomedicine, in Pollack's diagnosis, involves misplaced beliefs in the omnipotence of rational thought, absolute control over nature and triumph over death. With eloquence and wit, he contends that biomedicine's heroic goals of beating infectious microbes into total submission, of eradicating cancer and of dramatically extending life expectancy should give way to emphasis on disease prevention and methods to slow the aging process. Full of liberating insights, his provocative study calls on hard-core rationalists, establishment physicians, behaviorists, neurobiologists and life-extension researchers to rethink entrenched positions. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/06/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
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