Book Review: Tales From Both Sides Of The Brain

Tales From Both Sides Of The Brain:  A Life In Neuroscience, by Michael S. Gazzaniga

Although I have sometimes been critical about the author’s approach in terms of neuroscience and his lack of awareness about the disconnect that exists between his appreciation of design elements to the human mind and brains in general and his formal adoption of a misguided evolutionary framework to science, this book manages to avoid most of what I find problematic about his unwillingness to follow the evidence where it leads.  Instead, this book is a very enjoyable memoir of the author’s life as a neurologist, which shows a great deal of humanity and graciousness in the author’s own efforts to deal with competition in his field.  This is precisely the sort of book I would like to see more of, memoirs from illustrious scientists that discuss the way they went about their careers and the places they lived and the jobs they had and the people they worked with and interacted with.  This book shows the human side of scientists in a way that is winning and charming, and certainly does more to advance the cause of scientific research than the pettiness that often exists by those who present science as something divorced from humanity and human frailty as is often the case.

This particular book is a bit more than 350 pages and is divided into four parts and nine large chapters.  The book begins with a foreword from Steven Pinker and a preface.  After that the author discusses discovering the brain (I) with chapters on how the author dived into science (1), including some information about his parents and how they got together, as well as the way that the author discovered split-brain research (2) and sought to understand the code by which the brain sends signals within itself (3).  AFter that the author discusses his own research with split and whole brains (II), with chapters on the modularity of the brain that the author discovered (4), as well as the results of split-brain surgery on the brains of various people (5) and the way that this research spread from the West coast to the East coast with the author moving there for work (6).  After that the author discusses further aspects of his research (III), including what the right brain has to say (7) and his own lifestyle and call to serve (8).  Finally, the book concludes with a discussion about brain layers (IV, 9), an epilogue, acknowledgements, two appendices that deal graciously with other neuroscientists, notes, figure credits, video figures, and an index.

The author’s research is something that is of genuine and larger cultural interest.  We tend to think of people and tasks as being dominated by the left and right brain, but unless both sides of the brain are acting well, and unless there is some legitimacy for the insights the right side of the brain has, we will be harmed by the way that we think of the mind.  Of particular interest here is the author’s almost-gossipy discussion of the student and academic life of CalTech and other institutions and the way that he was able to parlay his personal friendships into a thoughtful discussion of neuroscience and political debates between different people and William F. Buckley Jr.  Overall, this book provides a look at the scientist as a human being involved in institutional and societal politics, seeking to do research that requires working with people and dealing with competition over others seeking credit in the same realms of science.  Obviously, if science is to have a secure place within culture the humanity of the people involved in it needs to be recognized, which will do much at shrinking the gap between scientists and the larger audience that is required to legitimate it.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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