John Cornwell

Mysteries Of The Soul

Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves

By

Harper Press 303pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

At the midpoint of the 1990s, the much-hyped Decade of the Brain, Peter Brook directed a stage version of Oliver Sacks’s book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat at the Cottesloe in London. At one point a patient was presented to a neurologist with a condition known as visual agnosia. The patient watched a screen on which a video of a seashore was depicted. He could describe moving white and blue lines and a strip of yellow: but he could not put it together to say what it was. At the end of the play, all the cast of patients and neurologists came on stage to watch another video: it depicted a PET scan showing the map of a brain gently pulsing in vivid colours. Brook meant his audience to grasp that brain imaging, as a way of understanding the mind, is as empty of meaning as impressions on a patient with visual agnosia.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,
    • 'The Testaments is, first and foremost, a manual of resistance ... a type of resistance that is organised, articula… ,
    • 'I did occasionally wonder whether Rupert Murdoch ... might have instructed his editors at William Collins to produ… ,