THE MODULAR BRAIN by Richard M. Restak


How New Discoveries in Neuroscience Are Answering Age-Old Questions About Memory, Free Will, Consciousness, and Personal Identity
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 Neuropsychiatrist Restak (The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own, 1991, etc.) tackles age-old questions about the nature of free will, thought, emotion, and creativity in the process of explicating the theory of the modular brain. In essence, this theory assumes both a horizontal and vertical organization to the brain; it posits that information about the world is extracted and stored in many different places and processed in parallel to produce a unified construction. What the theory does away with is the idea of some central soul that reads the data. Some areas of the brain, like the prefrontal lobes, figure in planning and motivation (free will); others are concerned with emotions. Myriad interconnections make the brain a federation and not an empire dominated by one part. Restak describes case studies that have led researchers to this notion of the brain: To people with ``word deafness,'' for example, spoken language sounds like noise or wind, but there is no loss of reading, writing, or speaking abilities; and some people with right hemisphere strokes deny that their left arm or leg belongs to them. Much of this is old news. What is really new is Restak's chapter on emotions and the use of the brain-damage defense to excuse crimes of violence. He glibly suggests that lower socioeconomic class and a ``culture'' of violence are the root causes of violence; however, he is on solid ground in discounting the brain-damage defense (except in rare cases) not only because we are subject to other constraints, but also because there is so much variation that we can hardly define what a ``normal'' brain looks like. There is a certain comfort in that. An informative tour of the current conventional wisdom in neurology. Some new wine, but mostly old brew in old bottles.

Pub Date: Aug. 2nd, 1994
ISBN: 0-684-19544-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1994