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The Brain and the Inner World

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This work is an eagerly awaited account of this momentous and ongoing revolution, elaborated for the general reader by two pioneers of the field. The book takes the nonspecialist reader on a guided tour through the exciting new discoveries, pointing out along the way how old psychodynamic concepts are being forged into a new scientific framework for understanding subjective experience - in health and disease.

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CHAPTER 1. Introduction to Basic Concepts

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This is very much a beginner’s guide to the brain. It makes virtually no assumptions about previous knowledge of neuro-science, and there is no intention to dazzle the reader with exotic facts and stunning photographs. The aim is rather simple: to familiarize nonspecialists with the basic facts of how the brain “produces” our subjective mental life (as far as we understand these facts today).

To this end, each chapter provides an overview of the neurobiology of a particular aspect of the mind. The focus is on aspects that would traditionally have been the preserve of psychoanalysts rather than neuroscientists. In the past century, there was an unfortunate division between the subject matter of neuropsychology and the lived reality of the mind. This once prompted the neurologist Oliver Sacks to write that “neuropsychology is admirable, but it excludes the psyche”!1 Happily, that situation has now changed. The really interesting things about psychology, such as consciousness, emotions, and dreams—topics from which neuropsychologists “shrank in horror” (Zeki, 1993, p. 343) less than a decade ago—are finally coming into the ambit of neuroscience. Readers of this book will learn what is known today about the neurobiology of these mental functions—about the “inner world” of the mind.

 

CHAPTER 2. Mind and Brain—How Do They Relate?

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Although the subject matter of this chapter is still introductory, it will almost certainly be of more interest to our readers than the basics of brain anatomy and physiology. In this chapter, we consider the relationship between mind and brain in general.

One of the main points to emerge from the previous chapter was that the brain is simply a bodily organ, like the stomach, the liver, or the lungs. It is tissue, made of cell9. These cells do have some special properties, but they are by no means magical. Nerve cells are of roughly the same type and employ roughly the same sort of metabolic and other processes as other cells in the body. And yet the brain has a special, mysterious property that distinguishes it from all other organs. It is the seat of the mind. somehow producing our feeling of being ourselves In the world right now. Trying to understand how this happens—how matter becomes mind—is the mind-body problem.

The mind-body problem is a philosophical conundrum that dates back to classical antiquity, and probably beyond. What has changed in recent years is the emergence of a comprehensive scientific effort to solve this ancient problem. This effort, which involves neuroscientists, psychologists, and even philosophers, takes the form of a multidisciplinary enterprise called cognitive science.1 In different ways, all are trying to solve the same great mystery. The advent of science to the problem has changed It slightly, In that the mind-body problem Is now commonly described as the problem of “consciousness.” In other words, the problem, “how does the mind emerge from the brain,” has become, “how does consciousness emerge from the brain.” Although psychoanalytically minded readers need no reminding that mental life is not synonymous with consciousness, we will not address this particular twist to the problem just yet. For now, let us assume that the two ways of putting the problem are synonymous.

 

CHAPTER 3. Consciousness and the Unconscious

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The next few chapters each address different aspects of mental life that have received substantial neurosclentlfic attention In recent years. We begin with the most general of them—consciousness—and thereby continue where we left off at the end of the previous chapter.

Freud was one of the first to claim (over a hundred years ago) that most of our mental life operates unconsciously and that consciousness Is merely a property of one part of the mind. To hold this opinion in medical science at that time was highly controversial. Much else that Freud proposed all those years ago Is still hotly contested. However, the notion that most mental functioning operates unconsciously is very widely accepted in cognitive neuroscience today. One of Freud’s most fundamental Innovations has thus entered the mainstream of contemporary science. This does not mean that modern neurosclentists accept everything that Freud said about the unconscious In the psychoanalytic sense. But that is another matter, which we address later. To begin with, we shall limit our consideration of the brain mechanisms of consciousness and unconscious mental activity to the purely descriptive meanings of those terms.

 

CHAPTER 4. Emotion and Motivation

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Our goal-directed actions are ultimately motivated by the biological task of meeting our needs in the outside world. The function of consciousness, described in the previous chapter, contributes a great deal to the successful performance of this task. “Core consciousness” relates information about the current state of the self to the prevailing circumstances in the outside world—the source of all the objects that the self requires to meet its inner needs. This information is conscfous because it is intrinsically evaluative; it tells us how we feel about things. This applies especially to the inwardly derived aspect of consciousness^—the conscious “state”—which provides our background sense of awareness. This background sense of awareness is not merely quantitative; it always has a particular qualitative “feel” to it. Conscious awareness is therefore grounded in emotional awareness.

Emotion is akin to a sensory modality—an internally directed sensory modality that provides information about the current state of the bodily self, as opposed to the state of the object world. It adds a sixth sense (a sixth modality of “qualia”) to our conscious existence. Emotion is the aspect of consciousness that is left if you remove all externally derived contents. If you were deprived of all sensory images (drawn from present and past perception), you would still be conscious. You would still be aware of your inner state—of your core self. Aristotle suggested that there are only five ways of knowing the world, corresponding to the five classical senses, but there is more to the world than the outer world.

 

CHAPTER 5. Memory and Phantasy

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In the previous two chapters we discussed brain mechanisms that respond to the two major sources of stimuli with which the mind has to contend, and we described a number of links that have evolved between these two sources of stimuli and the brain’s motor output mechanisms, most of which are probably Innate. In this chapter we discuss the relationships between these two classes of knowledge that are created during the living of an individual life. These links enable the subject to fine-tune his or her need-satisfying activities in relation to the idiosyncrasies of the specific environment Into which he or she is born. The survival value of such memory systems is obvious. Although the content of the memory systems Is unique to each Individual, memories are organized according to a regular, standard pattern. This “standard” pattern of organization of human memory, across a number of subsystems, Is the main theme of this chapter. We begin with an introductory tour of these subsystems before moving on to some related topics.

 

CHAPTER 6. Dreams and Hallucinations

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Dreams are the primary focus of this chapter. They are hallucinations that we all experience—hallucinations that have been regarded by many as a “normal” form of psychosis. Freud was especially interested in dreams because he believed that, if he could understand their mechanism, he would be able to comprehend something fundamental about mental illness.1 In the later sections of this chapter, other forms of hallucination and delusion, primarily in schizophrenia, are discussed. This chapter focuses on many of the same brain structures that were covered in the previous three chapters on consciousness, emotion, and memory. This is because the brain mechanisms of dreaming (perhaps not surprisingly) overlap a great deal with those of consciousness, emotion, and memory.

Dreams are notoriously difficult to investigate scientifically. This chapter is therefore also concerned with methodological questions regarding how brain mechanisms of dreaming have been investigated. Attention is drawn to the dangers of using inappropriate methods to investigate complex psychological states, and to the advantages of using more than one scientific method to study a difficult and elusive subject. In the past, one of the failings of psychoanalysis was its overreliance, despite the great complexity of its subject matter, on a single method for reaching its conclusions, but this has begun to change somewhat in recent years. Checking the findings of one method against those of another makes it possible to minimize the bias associated with a single method. Our review of the dreaming brain draws on findings from neurophysiological work on animals, sleep studies and functional-imaging studies in neurologically intact humans, and clinical and experimental investigations of patients with focal brain lesions.

 

CHAPTER 7. Genetic and Environmental Influences on Mental Development

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The overwhelmingly vast topic of nature-nurture influences on the brain has the potential to include everything that neuro-science knows about the developmental sequence, in every psychological domain. The previous few chapters covered only individual mental functions, and they focused primarily on their organization in the mature, adult brain. This chapter broadens our focus considerably. We therefore want to emphasize at the outset that our goals in this chapter are very limited: to introduce some of the basic principles about genes and their workings and to discuss their implications for the broader theme of this book. The best way we could think of doing this was to begin by summarizing the main principles and then illustrating these with reference to a single aspect of mental life—thereby reverting to the structure of the previous four chapters. We decided to use sexual difference as our example, thereby enabling us to cover from a neuroscientiflc point of view (at least in part) another topic that has been a traditional stomping ground of psychoanalysis.

 

CHAPTER 8. Words and Things: The Left and Right Cerebral Hemispheres

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The great cerebral hemispheres of the forebraln have been mentioned frequently In previous chapters, but mainly to contrast them with the deeper brain structures that have been our main focus. This chapter deals exclusively with the higher forebraln and, more specifically, with functional differences between the left and right cerebral hemispheres. Over the years, the functional asymmetry of the cerebral hemispheres (unlike just about everything else about the brain) has attracted some Interest from psychoanalysts. In this chapter, alongside our review of the basic facts of functional cerebral asymmetry, we comment on what these psychoanalysts have made of these facts. This will pave the way for the final two chapters of our book, in which we intend to deal with psychoanalytic matters in more depth. We begin, then, with a review of some of the basic facts concerning the functional differences between the hemispheres.

Interest in the asymmetrical contribution that the two hemispheres make to our mental life can be dated back to Broca’s celebrated case report of 1861, which we have mentioned more than once already. Readers will recall that Broca’s patient Tan-Tan”—who lost the power of speech after a stroke—suffered damage to the left-hand side of his brain, mainly in the inferior, posterior part of the frontal lobe (now known as Broca’s area). Four years later, Broca described a larger group of cases with similar disorders, all of whom had lesions in roughly the same area. In fact, it was only then that Broca realized that it mattered which side of the brain was damaged. The idea thus arose that language was bound up with the functions of the left cerebral hemisphere. Broca also suggested that the leftward lateralization of language might be related to the fact that most humans are right-handed (and therefore that the right hemisphere might be dominant for language in left-handers). The relationship between handedness and hemispheric dominance for language turned out to be slightly more complex (for a review see Springer & Deutsch, 1998). For the purposes of this chapter, we will consider only the simple case of “typical” hemispheric asymmetry (found in almost all right-handers).

 

CHAPTER 9. The Self and the Neurobiology of the "Talking Cure"

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Lest the reader be disappointed. It seems fair to admit at the outset that we are not yet in a position to give a proper account of either the “selT or the “talking cure” in neuroscientiflc terms. But we do have some tantalizing clues, and that is reason enough to consider these issues briefly here, even if only to clarify what research still needs to be done. We begin by reviewing the material we have covered already, and pulling together some of the main strands, to try to develop a coherent overall picture of how the mind works.

In chapter 2, we suggested that the mental apparatus is know-able in two different ways. By looking inward, we gain a subjective impression of our minds—a view from the inside, as it were. This is the method of studying the mind that psychoanalysis uses. The physical organ of the brain provides a second perceptual viewpoint on the mind—an “objective” perspective—a view of the mind as a thing; this is what the mind looks like when it is viewed from the outside. The fact that the mind can be viewed in these two different ways is the basis of the mind-body problem— the illusion that the mental apparatus consists of two different kinds of “stuff.”

 

CHAPTER 10. The Future and Neuro-Psychoanalysis

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“Metapsychology” is an obscure term to the modern scientific ear. But metapsychology is ultimately what all of mental science is about, including cognitive neuroscience. Metapsychology is an attempt to describe the functional architecture of the mental apparatus (the instrument of our mental life) and to define the laws that govern its workings (see chapter 2). Functional architectures are abstractions—virtual entities. They are not things that can be directly perceived. They are inferred from the data of observation.

In chapter 3, we described the functional architecture of consciousness and the laws that govern its workings (insofar as we currently comprehend them). In chapter 4, we did the same for emotion; in chapter 5, for memory; and so on. All of these things are abstractions. You cannot perceive a “memory system.” You can see the anatomical tissues between which the system is distributed, and you can experience an individual reminiscence, but the memory system itself is an abstraction. Cognitive neuroscience is ultimately about such things—”memory systems,” “consciousness systems,” “emotion systems,” and so on. That is why we say that metapsychology (describing the functional architecture of the mental apparatus) is what cognitive science is really about.

 

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