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Into the Silent Land is a collection of case studies and short tutorials on neuropsychology, which is the science of analyzing the relationship between personality, performance, and the anatomical and physiological structure of the brain. Broks fuses classic cases of neuropsychology with the his own case studies, philosophical debate, and thought provoking riffs and medita Into the Silent Land is a collection of case studies and short tutorials on neuropsychology, which is the science of analyzing the relationship between personality, performance, and the anatomical and physiological structure of the brain. Broks fuses classic cases of neuropsychology with the his own case studies, philosophical debate, and thought provoking riffs and meditations on the nature of neurological impairments and dysfunctions.


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Into the Silent Land is a collection of case studies and short tutorials on neuropsychology, which is the science of analyzing the relationship between personality, performance, and the anatomical and physiological structure of the brain. Broks fuses classic cases of neuropsychology with the his own case studies, philosophical debate, and thought provoking riffs and medita Into the Silent Land is a collection of case studies and short tutorials on neuropsychology, which is the science of analyzing the relationship between personality, performance, and the anatomical and physiological structure of the brain. Broks fuses classic cases of neuropsychology with the his own case studies, philosophical debate, and thought provoking riffs and meditations on the nature of neurological impairments and dysfunctions.

30 review for Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology

  1. 5 out of 5

    anthony

    its like if william s. burroughs, italo calvino, and oliver sacks got together for a dreamtime conversation in a floating pool of sulphur

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tom Quinn

    Too often the little case studies in psychology books are neutered, faceless statistics and circumstances detached from life. Someone hits their head and wakes up with a different personality. Someone is born with a photographic memory and near-impossible math skills. Their brains are scanned and their behaviors are noted and medical professionals learn something clinical about how the brain works. Into the Silent Land does wonders to remind us that these case studies happened to real people, th Too often the little case studies in psychology books are neutered, faceless statistics and circumstances detached from life. Someone hits their head and wakes up with a different personality. Someone is born with a photographic memory and near-impossible math skills. Their brains are scanned and their behaviors are noted and medical professionals learn something clinical about how the brain works. Into the Silent Land does wonders to remind us that these case studies happened to real people, that there are human beings and families living these realities. Treated with warmth and good humor, Broks's narrative restores the personhood to these otherwise impersonal medical curiosities. He tackles the thorny question of Self: reframing the age-old questions of consciousness, of mind-brain dualism, and ghosts in machines. Sometimes solemn, sometimes whimsical, and interspersed with fanciful, inventive pieces of fiction and poetry to better illustrate the subject at hand, it's a delightful repast of phenomenology, philosophy, and neuropsychology. 5 stars out of 5. I was engrossed from start to finish. All nonfiction should be so readable!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Shani

    I loved the neuropsych stuff but not the author's own quest into himself. I thought some bits were boring. I wish there was more of the patient's view and less of the aging doctor's.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    I'm going to need a bit more time to absorb this one. :) In short the book consists of a series of philosophical essays using case studies in clinical neuropsychology, the author's personal musings and science fiction to discover the relationship of "the self" to human biology. The author uses neuroscience to dispel the common sense notion that there is a self located somewhere in the human brain. He then uses philosophy to undermine the notion that there even is such a thing as self. He does all t I'm going to need a bit more time to absorb this one. :) In short the book consists of a series of philosophical essays using case studies in clinical neuropsychology, the author's personal musings and science fiction to discover the relationship of "the self" to human biology. The author uses neuroscience to dispel the common sense notion that there is a self located somewhere in the human brain. He then uses philosophy to undermine the notion that there even is such a thing as self. He does all this quite convincingly, while simultaneously reveling in his own self and the selves of others through his interactions with patients, students and family .... and, of course, his self. --- I learned about Paul Broks through the Australian podcast "All in the Mind." This podcast is well worth subscribing to if you are at all fascinated by this subject: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/ I have been hooked for a couple of years now, more ... or

  5. 5 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    Other reviewers have noted it's unfair to compare Broks to Sachs, and I agree. That said, per the "philosophy" angle he brings, I will compare him to somebody else - Dan Dennett. Some of the essays in this book remind me of some of Dennett's early stuff, like in the book co-written and co-edited with Douglas Hofstadter, "The Mind's I." Broks' tales in here are less about the patient, in part being a clinical psychologist, and more along the line of philosophical Gedankenexperimenten, or, to use Den Other reviewers have noted it's unfair to compare Broks to Sachs, and I agree. That said, per the "philosophy" angle he brings, I will compare him to somebody else - Dan Dennett. Some of the essays in this book remind me of some of Dennett's early stuff, like in the book co-written and co-edited with Douglas Hofstadter, "The Mind's I." Broks' tales in here are less about the patient, in part being a clinical psychologist, and more along the line of philosophical Gedankenexperimenten, or, to use Dennett's phrase, "intuition pumps." That said, Broks is far more a poet than Dennett, and may just surpass Sacks in that regard too. I note that this won a Guardian "First Book" award. Please, Mr. Broks, let's follow up with a second and more. Comment

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    With your feet in the air/ And your head on the ground/ Try this trick and spin it/ Your head will collapse/ But there's nothing in it/ And you'll ask yourself/ Where is my mind? This might be a dangerous book for those with a fragile sense of self, but required reading for anyone with a big ego. It is certainly an incredible achievement. Paul Broks manages to elucidate current ideas surrounding the brain/mind dilemma in a provocative style sometimes reminiscent of a novel or innerspace travelogue. If With your feet in the air/ And your head on the ground/ Try this trick and spin it/ Your head will collapse/ But there's nothing in it/ And you'll ask yourself/ Where is my mind? This might be a dangerous book for those with a fragile sense of self, but required reading for anyone with a big ego. It is certainly an incredible achievement. Paul Broks manages to elucidate current ideas surrounding the brain/mind dilemma in a provocative style sometimes reminiscent of a novel or innerspace travelogue. If you like to think about the big questions in a rational way, read this book and prepare to lose (or loose) your mind.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Green

    Broks is such a non-linear thinker that it was almost impossible to follow a through-line to this book, assuming there was one. He doesn't develop a particular idea; rather, he just tells a collection of stories. Those stories are so poetic at times that I wasn't sure I understood what he was getting at, and they often felt like ethereally connected images that I couldn't completely track with. I wish I'd spent the time some other way.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    The philosophic and human implications of neuropathology A blurb on the cover touts neuropsychology Professor Broks, author of this intriguing book, as "The new Oliver Sacks." While any writer on neuropathology would be flattered to be compared to the renowned Dr. Sacks, whose books include the fascinating The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other clinical tales (1987), I don't think such a comparison is fair to either man. While Broks and Sacks write about the sometimes bizarre consequence The philosophic and human implications of neuropathology A blurb on the cover touts neuropsychology Professor Broks, author of this intriguing book, as "The new Oliver Sacks." While any writer on neuropathology would be flattered to be compared to the renowned Dr. Sacks, whose books include the fascinating The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other clinical tales (1987), I don't think such a comparison is fair to either man. While Broks and Sacks write about the sometimes bizarre consequences of neurological disorders, they do so from a different perspective. Sacks is more tightly focused on the patient and the pathology whereas Broks concentrates more on his personal experience as a neuropsychologist and the philosophic and emotional consequences of those experiences. Furthermore, while Sacks writes with an uncommon clarity and eloquence, Broks relies on a more literary style with excursions into memoir, story (sometimes reminding me distantly of Borges), Socratic dialogue, and dream sequence. Each chapter in the book is a personal experience essay. Some chapters recall patients with disorders, some do not. Some chapters are intensely personal, as is the final chapter on the experience of his wife's breast cancer. Others are almost completely philosophical. What can pathology, especially neuropathology, teach us about what it means to be human and to be self-aware is what Broks is asking in all of the chapters, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely. His answer is equivocal and meandering; in short he isn't sure. I respect that because I'm not sure either, and I don't know anyone who is. Broks begins by experiencing the pulsating brain as raw meat. He is mesmerized by the "absolute conviction" that in the flesh "behind the face" being probed by the surgeon, "there's no one there." (p. 17) This leads him to reject the "Mysterian" position on consciousness and Cartesian dualism. He excises the ghost in the machine and comes to realize that the "I" of our experience is nowhere at all, but is an ever-changing, ever constructing presence among the modules of the brain. "Thoughts, feelings, and intentions produce me, not the other way around," is how he expresses it on page 80. He sees the "I" that experiences and reflects upon experience as "not a single thing, or a thing at all," but as "a principle of biological organization." (p. 100) This is a profound insight from modern neuroscience and philosophy as presented by people like Francis Crick and Daniel Dennett, whom Broks cites, and others. But Broks is neither completely satisfied with this unsettling point of view, nor is he complacent to leave it at that. In my favorite chapter of the book, "To Be Two or Not to Be," Broks presents a science fiction scenario in which one is teleported to Mars. One's body is exhaustively copied on Mars from information sent from Earth. Every single atom is replicated exactly as it appears in the original and then the original is destroyed, allowing one to travel at the speed of light. In effect this is a thought experiment asking the question "Who are you?" Are you the original or the copy? The copy assures us that he is the same continuous being that was on Earth and is now on Mars. He is the father of his children, the husband of his wife, and is the man who was once the child. He has all this in his memory. He certainly did not die. And besides he has done this a dozen times and is still alive. But Broks throws a monkey wrench into this scenario by having the original not destroyed. Now who is who? And if the original is now to be destroyed, how does he feel about that? What is different from the man on Earth and his identical on Mars? Absolutely nothing (although because of their now different environments they are beginning to change). Yet the original prefers that he continue living, as does the copy. This story really highlights the Buddhist idea that we do not exist as we think we do. There is no "self," no "ego-I"; we do not die because we were never living in the sense that we think we were. What exists is pure identification, so to speak, that everybody has identically. That does not die. It is always there in a sentient being. Broks acknowledges this Buddhist perspective, admits that in some sense he is uneasy about it; admits that in some sense, at some times, he is a Mysterian, who does believe in something non-material in ourselves. (See "Right This Way, Smiles a Mermaid" beginning on page 132.) Another point that Broks makes is that we do not exist in isolation. "The working brain has to be understood not only as part of a larger biological system (the rest of the body), but also as a component of the wider social system." (p. 102) I would add that we are also part of this planet and its systems, and in the most minute, but real sense, part of the cosmos. Broks believes that the familiar soul-body dualism from Descartes is hard-wired into our brains by the process of evolution. (p. 138) He also believes that "phenomenal consciousness--the raw feel of experience--is invisible to conventional scientific scrutiny and will forever remain so." (p. 140) I agree that the idea of a soul is adaptive in an evolutionary sense. It allows for us to have hope in many seemingly hopeless situations. It furthers the adaptiveness of the tribe which furthers the adaptiveness of the members of the tribe. I also agree that such phenomena as the taste of ice cream, the experience of the color red, etc., are not subject to scientific evaluation. Science is preeminently a social exercise in that, without peer review and confirming experiments by other scientists, would not exist as such. Consequently it is futile to expect something purely subjective to find scientific proof. --Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”

  9. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    Broks made an admirable attempt at combining self and others' in this muddled disaster full of his own confusion. He is very clearly unsure of the self, and makes no headway from start to finish in reconciling his own personal struggle with the issues he raises in this book. He seems unable to address any particular topic and this compilation rambles in a manner that leaves no taste for wanting more. As you read you too will be confused. You will ask yourself if this is a fictional novel, a comp Broks made an admirable attempt at combining self and others' in this muddled disaster full of his own confusion. He is very clearly unsure of the self, and makes no headway from start to finish in reconciling his own personal struggle with the issues he raises in this book. He seems unable to address any particular topic and this compilation rambles in a manner that leaves no taste for wanting more. As you read you too will be confused. You will ask yourself if this is a fictional novel, a compelling look into case studies, or a memoir. Neither which would stand alone as an individual tale, and does not stand on it's own as it is. If you are interested in neuropsychology, neuroscience, or body/mind processes; move on from this mess of words.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ruby Tombstone [With A Vengeance]

    Just heard Jane Curtin reading Voodoo Child (Slight Return) on PRI Selected Shorts, and am very excited. It's not often I get to shelve a book with this particular combination of mind-blowing/biology/literary-fiction/nonfiction/metafiction - and I could probably add a few more: postmodern, neurology, psychology, philosophy....... ahhhhh. Great combination. Story here: NPR Selected Shorts - Complicated Relationships I look forward to reading the rest of this.. Just heard Jane Curtin reading Voodoo Child (Slight Return) on PRI Selected Shorts, and am very excited. It's not often I get to shelve a book with this particular combination of mind-blowing/biology/literary-fiction/nonfiction/metafiction - and I could probably add a few more: postmodern, neurology, psychology, philosophy....... ahhhhh. Great combination. Story here: NPR Selected Shorts - Complicated Relationships I look forward to reading the rest of this..

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kriegslok

    A fascinating glimpse into the world of neuropsychology. The more misanthropic and resigned to the stupidity of humanity I become the more interested I am actually becoming in what makes us tick and why we are the way we are. This is a fascinating and easily readable book that makes you think. From what it is that creates our feeling of self-consciousness to whether we actually exist at all it's all touched on in a work which is as much philosophical as it is scientific. My appetite has been wet A fascinating glimpse into the world of neuropsychology. The more misanthropic and resigned to the stupidity of humanity I become the more interested I am actually becoming in what makes us tick and why we are the way we are. This is a fascinating and easily readable book that makes you think. From what it is that creates our feeling of self-consciousness to whether we actually exist at all it's all touched on in a work which is as much philosophical as it is scientific. My appetite has been wetted and I will be tracking down some of the books in the recommended further reading list.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    For someone like me, who has no knowledge of neurology, this was a very accessible introduction to some of the issues, especially relating to identity and a person's sense of themselves. I came away largely mystified, but in a good way. Broks writes well, and I'd recommend this short book to anyone who likes to think about some of the fundamentals in life, for a change. It's certainly not heavy or technical.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    This is a fascinating book. It is written by a neuropsychologist and wends between between a discussion about the difference between the mind and the brain; a philosophical treatise on life and existence; some fascinating patient case studies, and some really off-the-wall dream scenes. It some ways it feels like an experience of mental breakdown! But I did enjoy the challenge! It has left me with a slightly different understanding of myself, my mind and my existence!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Written by a neuropsychologist, this is essentially an exploration on the nature of identity - ego - id - who or what is "I". Using case studies, autobiograhical thoughts/stories and philosphical ideas, this raised for me some interesting questions - no answers but that is the joy of this read - it promotes thinking. Try it, it's well worth a read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Milne

    Wow, I did not like this. I disliked the tone and the writing. And I get the definite impression that if I met the man I would dislike him, too. Much of this was probably better left in his private journal. Hey, I get it, I can be a bit of a cynic myself, but, dude, you may need medication.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Reggie

    Fascinating, beautiful, and surprisingly poignant read. I'm still coming to terms with the conundrums and challenges presented within. I appreciated how, while decided in his beliefs and views, Broks still allowed the book to focus on the questions and explorations.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Damian

    Phenomenal, imaginative science writing at its best -a doctor's reflections on the fascinating nature of human life and experience.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Wants to be a book by DennnettHofstadterSacks but is actually a rudimentary, and oddly depressing, look at the problems of consciousness.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Trying to be the next Oliver Sacks. Failed.

  20. 4 out of 5

    James Alvarez-Ude

    A great collection of neuroscience stories / case studies told in a very readable and engaging way. The author wishes to dissuade us on the idea of the existence of soul. For those who conceptualise the soul as our personality and memories, it should be convincing. The machine like nature of thoughts and behaviours are exposed during neurological trauma, and this is inconsistent with them being tied to a soul that would survive outside a brain, e.g. after death. Also, he touches on the interesti A great collection of neuroscience stories / case studies told in a very readable and engaging way. The author wishes to dissuade us on the idea of the existence of soul. For those who conceptualise the soul as our personality and memories, it should be convincing. The machine like nature of thoughts and behaviours are exposed during neurological trauma, and this is inconsistent with them being tied to a soul that would survive outside a brain, e.g. after death. Also, he touches on the interesting idea that an organism acting as if it has a soul, is evolutionary beneficial. Maybe slightly too often he relied on the simplistic argument, when you open up the brain there is just goo and no soul, "there just isn't" - but presumably this isn't meant to be taken literally. He falters (self acknowledging this) when it comes to the idea of consciousness; he describes a dream where he denies being a dualist yet talks about how the scientific method has no direct access to the contents by of consciousness. Dualist in denial! Finishes with a nice sci-fi short story about teleportation, illustrating the weirdness that would occur if this should ever become possible.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Larisa

    I read this book as part of my course, and I was very disappointed. Far from being an interesting neuropsychology case book, and very far from being the "new Oliver Sacks". It's a running train of thoughts from the author, laden with philosophical and literary references, in an attempt to either display cleverness or impress the reader; if so it should at least be retitled into something about consciousness. That's the main topic of the book: the mind-body problem, woven with some odd stories an I read this book as part of my course, and I was very disappointed. Far from being an interesting neuropsychology case book, and very far from being the "new Oliver Sacks". It's a running train of thoughts from the author, laden with philosophical and literary references, in an attempt to either display cleverness or impress the reader; if so it should at least be retitled into something about consciousness. That's the main topic of the book: the mind-body problem, woven with some odd stories and insights from the author's practice as a clinician. The writing is not bad but it has a very heavy weight of self importance: if anything, it was a diary not meant for others to read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Philippa

    Into the silent land discussion I like the anecdotal stories and his own blunt personal opinion Interesting mentioning about HM and familiar case studies but also how they are old now topics mentioned I have studied Functional asymmetry/split brain studies (p32) Stuff I want to look up - Alexander Luria (p34) Makes you think about the self, are you your brain or your memory or your mind, where is your personality? Your body is different to your mind and brain? Words I googled Phials Pharmacological (p32 Into the silent land discussion I like the anecdotal stories and his own blunt personal opinion Interesting mentioning about HM and familiar case studies but also how they are old now topics mentioned I have studied Functional asymmetry/split brain studies (p32) Stuff I want to look up - Alexander Luria (p34) Makes you think about the self, are you your brain or your memory or your mind, where is your personality? Your body is different to your mind and brain? Words I googled Phials Pharmacological (p32) Gargantuan (46)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    One of my books of the year. Stunning blend of neuropsychological case histories, musings on the brain/mind connection, fragments of the author's life and occasionally, brief science-fiction tales encapsulating some of the philosophical conundrums described in the book. Sounds heavy? Not at all. It's enthralling, very funny, poignant and has a pervasive sense of wonder and awe. I absolutely loved this book. It reminded me of why I love reading so much.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sharonb

    I had high hopes for this book. I work in the field of neurology and find neuropsychology fascinating but I was left disappointed. The case studies were the most interesting but by the end I was flicking through it and couldn't wait to finish it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Serena Long ﺕ

    I need a bit more time to absorb.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jan Stette

    Tremendous. This is the kind of book that leaves the world looking a little bit different after you’ve read it. It’s a book that’ll stay with me for a long time, I’m sure.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Erica Smythe

    I found the case histories fascinating. Well written and easy to understand although there were a few pages which I had to read a couple of time to understand what Paul Broks was saying.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lola

    I really liked it and recommend it for writers at all levels.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Gin

    Halfway in, and I can't stand this book. Dr. Broks wants me to believe that he contemplates philosophical questions about self and identity every time he works with a patient, and, well, I just want to hear his patients' fascinating stories without pages of romanticized airs in between. I have to take frequent breaks from reading or else I'm going to go cross-eyed from rolling my eyes after every other sentence: "The illusion is irresistible. Behind every face there is a self...The brute fact is Halfway in, and I can't stand this book. Dr. Broks wants me to believe that he contemplates philosophical questions about self and identity every time he works with a patient, and, well, I just want to hear his patients' fascinating stories without pages of romanticized airs in between. I have to take frequent breaks from reading or else I'm going to go cross-eyed from rolling my eyes after every other sentence: "The illusion is irresistible. Behind every face there is a self...The brute fact is that there is nothing but material substance." Or, describing a patient who is hitting on his research assistant, "Martin's grin has an unworldly beauty." Or, "Students of consciousness are fond of zombies. Not the Haitian living dead or shambling ghouls of Twilight Zone, but far stranger inhabitants of the world of philosophical conjecture." And what exactly does a car that's "color of tomato soup" add to the story of a girl with spatial awareness problems struggling to pass her driving test? Spare me, please.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    Richard Powers, in a recent essay on place and fiction, calls this a "chimerical excursion [...] with its collage of neuroscience, clinical case histories, memoir, philosophical essay, and bare naked short story. Broks’s essays prove that there is no Self, no master narrative holding us together; but his fictive personal memoir can’t escape having one. The brain is condemned to think that it’s a soul, and to describe that impossible hybrid state [...]." I wish more books ended with an epigraph. R Richard Powers, in a recent essay on place and fiction, calls this a "chimerical excursion [...] with its collage of neuroscience, clinical case histories, memoir, philosophical essay, and bare naked short story. Broks’s essays prove that there is no Self, no master narrative holding us together; but his fictive personal memoir can’t escape having one. The brain is condemned to think that it’s a soul, and to describe that impossible hybrid state [...]." I wish more books ended with an epigraph. Regarding myth of romantic love: Life and relationships are more random than we think but, in the end, most of us fall into a pattern. With whom, it doesn't much matter. It's the pattern that counts. "If you don't relinquish the myth, you're bound to be disappointed. But if you don't believe it in the first place . . . "

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