Conversations with Neil's Brain: The Neural Nature of Thought and Language

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In a series of stories before, after, and even during neurosurgery, an epileptic patient, Neil; his surgeon, George Ojemann; and neuroscientist William Calvin work together to remove a portion of Neil’s temporal lobe. If they do it right, they will have a good chance of putting an end to Neil’s seizures. If they slice too far to the left or right, they will wipe out essential parts of Neil’s memory, or his ability to follow a joke to the punch line, or maybe his ability to recognize his wife’s face. In essence, they can erase or alter parts of Neil.Conversations with Neil’s Brain takes us inside the operating room and allows us to be part of this eerie process of discovery, using it to provide a unique window on human consciousness and the nature of human identity. The mapping of Neil’s brain brings to life as never before the astounding specificity by which the brian operates, making clear why language, memory, and decision making are so complex, and why the cures for such ailments as learning disabilities, mental disorders, Alzheimer’s, and strokes continue to elude the world’s best medical efforts. In the context of this unique surgical drama, Conversations with Neil’s Brain unfolds as an intensely compelling read.

Neurosurgery on brain of epileptic pat. prov. background for discussion on nature of human identity.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Neil named in the title, identified as an engineer who became epileptic after fracturing his skull, undergoes brain surgery to remove part of his temporal lobe in the hope of eliminating his seizures. By stimulating his cerebral cortex, doctors map regions that control his memory, movement and his ability to use language. ``Neil'' is actually a composite of several epileptic patients, a device neurophysiologist Calvin and neurosurgeon Ojemann, both at the University of Washington, use to good effect, as they did in their earlier collaboration Inside the Brain. In a model of lucid scientific exposition, they scan recent research on memory, language and learning disabilities to explore links between brain damage and schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorders, sociopathic behavior and depression. Illustrating their points with far-ranging examples, the authors cite, among others, Virginia Woolf who, in her manic episodes, would talk almost without stopping for two or three days, and Woodrow Wilson whose strokes paralyzed his left side and gave him ``mild paranoia,'' leaving him unable to argue effectively for the League of Nations. Illustrations. (May)
Library Journal
Neurophysiologist Calvin and neurosurgeon Ojemann succeed admirably in describing the anatomy and physiology of the brain-undoubtedly the most complex organ in the human body-in very understandable terms. Using the ploy of a dialog with a brain surgery candidate named Neil, the authors answer many puzzling questions concerning the brain's functions. Neil, who suffers from epileptic seizures as a result of brain damage sustained in an auto accident, is eager to have the damaged cells removed. During the course of extensive conversations, Neil learns about memory, moods, motor functions, language, thought patterns, and visual comprehension. Line drawings enhance the explanations. This fascinating book is recommended for consumer health collections.-Carol R. Glatt, VA Medical Ctr. Lib., Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780201483376
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/1995
  • Pages: 356
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

William H. Calvin, Ph.D., a neurophysiologist at the University of Washington, is the author of The Throwing Madonna and The River that Flows Uphill. George A. Ojemann, M.D., a neurosurgeon at the University of Washington, collaborated with Dr. Calvin on their earlier book, Inside the Brain. William H. Calvin, Ph.D., a neurophysiologist at the University of Washington, is the author of The Throwing Madonna and The River that Flows Uphill. George A. Ojemann, M.D., a neurosurgeon at the University of Washington, collaborated with Dr. Calvin on their earlier book, Inside the Brain.

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Table of Contents

1 A Window to the Brain 1
2 Losing Consciousness 19
3 Seeing the Brain Speak 39
4 If Language Is Left, What's Right? 59
5 The Problems with Paying Attention 75
6 The Personality of the Lowly Neuron 89
7 The What and Where of Memory 109
8 How Are Memories Made? 123
9 What's Up Front 137
10 When Things Go Wrong with Thought and Mood 151
11 Tuning Up the Brain by Pruning 171
12 Acquiring and Reacquiring Language 185
13 Taking Apart the Visual Image 203
14 How the Brain Subdivides Language 219
15 Why Can We Read So Well? 231
16 Stringing Things Together in Novel Ways 243
17 Deep in the Temporal Lobe, Just Across from the Brain Stem 253
18 In Search of the Narrator 267
Postscript and Acknowledgments 293
General References 295
End Notes 297
Index 331
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