THE BRAIN: The Last Frontier by

THE BRAIN: The Last Frontier

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Neurologist Restak's comprehensive survey of contemporary psychobiology--the term he favors to describe research on the brain as the organ of behavior--stresses the relevance of such research to social problems. Only by understanding the neurological underpinnings of how we think and feel and act can we hope to prevent hostile acts, or wars, improve the educational system, forestall mental illness or senility. This optimistic view is presented in a series of chapters which provide basic background, but for the most part read like a conducted tour of research laboratories and leading neuroscientists--with a certain inevitable disjointedness. Restak deftly dismisses behaviorism early on, and then proceeds to enlarge on the ideas of Paul MacLean, echoed by Edward Wilson, that the brain contains within it fossilized parts which often conflict with our more reasonable self. Thus we hear again the disappointing refrain that one cannot trust one's emotions and feelings, that repetitive behavior, aggression, authoritarianism, etc., lurk in our old ""reptilean"" mind. On the whole, Restak makes clear the border between accepted findings and theories or interpretations. He is particularly good in discussing some of the newer work on cerebral lateralizations and experiments with split-brain subjects. Other new and intriguing studies include EEG research suggesting that pools of microcircuits exist between dendrites of neighboring neurons; that an intended physical act depends on a programmed plan or process rather than on specifically guided muscles; and that evoked electric potentials to sensory stimuli may indicate a style of thinking and possibly be diagnostic of certain forms of mental illness. There is a lot on male-female brain differences (girls' superior ability at verbal processing, etc.), which leads Restak to conclude that it's hardly surprising that the child with a ""learning disability"" in our society is almost invariably a male. All this and more (discussion of consciousness in relation to culture, speculations on biologically grounded bases for esthetics and ethics) guarantee the book a lively and controversial reception. It is not one for the lazy reader, either. While Restak is a good expositor you may have to give some of his paragraphs a second or third go around. . . but it's worth it.

Pub Date: June 8th, 1979
Publisher: Doubleday