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

    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,
    • Time travel, bicycles and white horses populate @WomackPhilip's roundup of children's books by @marcussedgwick,… ,