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The New Brain ()


After his death, Albert Einstein's brain was removed and studied to see how it compared to the brains of "typical" men and women. In comparison to today's methodology, this seems almost quaint.

In his book The New Brain, Dr. Richard Restak, refers to many of the current techniques used to study the form and function of the brain, in vivo. Restak focuses on the remarkable plasticity of the human brain, and how the current environment and culture may be molding the brain in ways which are new and possibly problematic

Like most popular science books, studies are referred to with only cursory details, and the reader is left to trust Restak's interpretation of the results and conclusions. This is somewhat troubling, as most of the studies seem to look at correlations between the "brain scan" results and the environmental inputs or behavior. Correlative studies leave tremendous leeway in how results are interpreted.

That said, our ability to visualize brain activity as it occurs and over time and the ability to stimulate and "control" the brain directly is remarkable. The field would appear to be in it's infancy (or at least childhood), and the data sure to flow from such studies will inform our understanding of brain function and development at a rapid pace in coming years.

Restak concludes the book with a passing discussion of the ethical implications of this "new" science, without passing any judgments. And it is here where the critical questions will arise as the data continue to flow in. For example, if it is determined that some people are born with criminal behavior hard-wired, or with a predisposition, are they less culpable for their actions? Does being born a certain way, excuse you from moral behavior? If we can control the brain with external inputs, should we?

The examples and studies cited in the book are intriguing, and turn upside down some of the common understanding we (or at least I) hold. The book may not make you a brain surgeon, but it will definitely intrigue and stimulate your gray matter.

Reviewed by Stephen



(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

Websites:

Richard Restak Links:
   - Richard Restak, M.D.
   - Audio Interview - The Diane Rehm Show

Book-related and General Links:
   - The Whole Brain Atlas
   - The Brain Connection
   - The Brain Museum

Comments:

Being born with a defective brain DOES make one less culpable. However, that doesn't mean that society should have to put up with harm being done by the defective.

Since we're unlikely to simply kill those unfortunates, it seems certain that as soon as we learn how to affect the brain, we will. We already medicate those who we have treatments for, and taking the medication can be mandated by the courts.

As for the non-impaired meddling with their brains: I'm inclined to allow it. I further believe that it will occur whether or not it's officially sanctioned, just as drug use does now.

- Michael Herdegen

- Jan-17-2004, 22:57

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