From the author of the bestseller The Disappearing Spoon, tales of the brain and the history of neuroscience.
“Above all, we know that there’s a physical basis for every psychological attribute we have: if just the right spot gets damaged, we can lose just about anything in our mental repertoire, no matter how sacred.”
“In this thinking, the mind’s conscious, decision-making “will” is actually a by-product of whatever the unconscious brain has already decided to do. Free will is a retrospective illusion, however convincing, and we feel “urges” to do only what we’re going to do anyway. Pride alone makes us insist otherwise.”
(Note these are a selection of the author’s, Sam Kean’s, suggested questions)
1). What surprised you most about neuroscience?
2). Why were the doctors treating King Herni (also Henry) II of France in the first chapter so confident he would live? What relevance does this story have today?
3). Did anything about the history of neuroscience make you uncomfortable? Why?
4). If you could pick one neurological deficit to have for a day, what would it be?
5). After reading the book, what is your favorite brain structure and why?
6). Did the book change your ideas on how science actually gets done in the real world?
7. Do you think that insights into how brain deficits can affect behavior will have a big impact on our criminal justice system?
8) How does our brain turn sensory information into things like language and memories?
9). Did your beliefs about free will change during the course of the book? Is the existence of free will a question scientists should be investigating?
Bonus Notes and Story About the Most Famous Memory Fugue Victim in History, Ansel Bourne:
Trailer (full version not yet available on YouTube):
About the Author:
“Whenever we read about people’s lives, fictional or non-, we have to put ourselves into the minds of the characters. And honestly, my mind has never had to stretch so far, never had to work so hard, as it did to inhabit the minds of people with brain damage. They’re recognizably human in so many ways, and yet still somehow off: Hamlet seems transparent next to H.M. But that’s the power of stories, to reach across that divide.”
― Sam Kean, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery
Sam Kean is a writer in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, The Believer, Air & Space, Science, and The New Scientist. He is currently working as a reporter at Science magazine and as a 2009 Middlebury Environmental Journalism fellow.