"THE STRANGE, FAMILIAR, AND FORGOTTEN: An Anatomy of Consciousness" by Israel Rosenfield

"THE STRANGE, FAMILIAR, AND FORGOTTEN: An Anatomy of Consciousness"

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City University's Rosenfield has been described as one ""trained as a mathematician, a physician, a philosopher, and a historian of ideas."" Aspects of all four are reflected in this short and provocative work, with perhaps the lion's share being that of the philosopher. Essentially, Rosenfield argues that it is consciousness--and self-consciousness in particular--that informs our ability to think and feel and remember. This entails an intact self-image to serve as a point of reference to which we relate the ever-changing events in the world. Failings in this self-referential system show up as dysfunctional memories, perceptions, thoughts, and language. Thus the stroke victim who ignores one side of the body is actually the victim of altered self-consciousness/image. Other neurological and psychiatric problems (Tourette's syndrome, multiple-personality disorder) are also conceived as failures in self. image. But are they the cause or result? Arguable points, certainly. The ideas Rosenfield presents here are an extension of concepts developed in his The Invention of Memory (1988). Here, consciousness reigns supreme as the dynamic force organizing human behavior, a consciousness that incorporates memory. Consciousness is never truly defined, however, but only described as emerging from ""a constantly evolving relation among sets of stimuli."" This reluctance to come to terms, to pin concepts down, reflects Rosenfield's intent to argue against classic neurological maps of specific brain sites of damage as leading to specific losses, and indeed any attempt to ""hard wire"" the brain or to model it as a computer. There is much that is stimulating in Rosenfield's rereading of history and case studies, but his synthesis may swing the pendulum too far in the direction of an all-encompassing explanatory principle that reverses Descartes's dictum: For Rosenfield, it is I am (have a body), therefore I think.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1992
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Knopf