Grab your nearest neuroanatomy text: this user’s guide plots myriad courses through the brain’s tracks and stations as Ratey (Psychiatry/Harvard Medical School) delivers the latest word on the underpinnings of perception, emotion, memory, thought, and other mental qualities.
Ratey makes it clear that the more researchers learn, the more complicated and exciting the territory of the brain becomes. It’s not too much to say that everything connects here: parts of the brain long thought to be primarily concerned with movement and coordination—like the cerebellum and the basal ganglia—are now seen to be connected to cognition and perception, for example. These new findings stem from clinical studies and techniques of neuroimaging, genetics, and biochemistry. The emphasis on the inseparability of thought, emotion, and behavior is the major take-home message. Occasionally the writing is careless (“The day an infant is conceived it begins to perceive the external world, and also becomes aware of its own internal states, such as hunger”), and sometimes it seems directed too narrowly at the author's colleagues. Ratey’s synopses of all things brainy leads him in the end to a concept of “four theaters of the mind,” which, to use another metaphor, he describes as tributaries to a river of the mind. The river begins with perception, flows through attention/ consciousness/cognition, is acted upon by the third theater of brain functions (such as language and social ability), and finally empties into the fourth theater—the identity and behavior of the perceiver. Of course, there is an upstream flow as well. Ratey plumps for this concept to be more widely used in psychiatry, which tends to focus purely on affect, paying little attention, for example, to how a patient perceives the world.
Overall, Ratey is a conscientious guide, pointing out the intricate routes by which human brains navigate behavior. Just remember: the map is only this year’s topography, subject to change and correction.