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  1. Swaab, Dick. We Are Our Brains This is not a difficult book, but it’s a long and deep one. Swaab’s heavily Darwinian take on the brain’s function will not appeal to advocates of Intelligent Design, Pro Lifers or those who expect another existence elsewhere. In other words, his take is strictly scientific and practical. It is a well-structured book, each aspect of the workings of the brain in our everyday lives is clearly laid out with abundant images of the inner world we depend on but never see. Many common afflictions are explained and illustrated in just sufficient detail for the so-called intelligent layman to grasp. Sometimes I confess to being baffled by the jargon, by the battery of unfamiliar terms such as his expananation of the remarkable 23 year old woman who depite being in a vegetative state for five months her brain was remarkably undamaged: ‘When asked to “visit” all the rooms in her house in her mind, activity was seen in the parts of the brain that control spatial orientation and locomation: the para hippocampal gyrus (fig.26), the parietal cortex (fig.1) and the lateral premotor cortex (fig 22).’ If you are a really serious reader you’ll need to keep your thumb in several places at once. That said, I found the book a revelation. The information is given in small bursts, always with apposite warnings, often with humour or reference to known public figures or the common stock of literature. Churchill’s ‘black dogs’ or Lewis Caroll’s fantasies, for example, all have ther roots in the brain, and, importantly for Swaab, in the development of the pre-born child, the relationship in the womb of mother and child. Thus, in effect, the book is strongly biological rather than environmental in emphasis. Our character and personality are, according to Swaab, determined long before birth, long before conception even, the genetic content of sperm and ovum has already laid down the goal posts of character; any environmental modifications are trivial in comparison. I found this something of a shock, but was gradually persuaded to accept it as fact. ‘What about Free Choice?’ ‘What about education?’ I wanted to ask. Apparently, when Swaab and Hofman published their findings on homosexual and heterosexual men it unleashed a brouhaha.
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