STATES OF MIND by Roberta Conlan


New Discoveries About How Our Brains Make Us Who We Are
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This book compiles public lectures by eight neuroscientists in a series sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, and edited by a former managing editor for Time-Life Books. Each lecture serves as a primer for the general reader. However, the coverage is a little skewed. While the experts here cut a wide swath in brain research—including development, learning, emotions, mental illness, addiction, and dreaming—nearly all emphasize the role of stress, fear, anxiety, depression, and kindred downers as essential in building our brains. To be sure, without hardwiring of fear and our responses to it, we would lack the wherewithal “to take arms against a sea of troubles.” All the same, from Jerome Kagan’s pioneering studies of shyness to J. Allan Hobson’s comment that most dreams are unpleasant, one can—t help but feel there must be more to the life of the mind. That said, much here is of interest. Kay Redfield Jamison provides a fascinating lecture on depression and manic-depression in relation to creativity; her examples include Byron, Woolf, and Hemingway. Such conditions have genetic components, and she offers evidence that the expansive thinking associated with elevated mood states may lead to making novel connections and combinations of ideas. Elsewhere, in pieces contributed by Bruce McEwen (stress and the brain), Esther Sternberg (emotions and diseases), and Joseph LeDoux (the power of emotions), contributors discuss how emotions can be conditioned and affect unconscious memory, along with the recurrent theme that our nervous systems are intimately connected to the immune and endocrine systems. Potentially, hormones can upset the balance of the immune system and contribute to hypertension, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other chronic ills. But Steven Hyman, among others, reminds us that the brain is also extraordinarily plastic—capable of unlearning bad habits, as well as learning new tricks. Good as far as it goes. But it would be nice to also have a series of lectures that accentuates the positive. (26 photos and drawings)

Pub Date: March 26th, 1999
ISBN: 0-471-29963-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999