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The Private life of the Brain

Susan A Greenfield

The ubiquitous Professor Susan Greenfield is a leading neuroscientist based in the Pharmacology Laboratory, Oxford University. Greenfield has previously taken us on several expeditions exploring the human brain, writing several books and recently presenting a BBC television series on this subject. In her latest book, The Private Life of the Brain, she invites us to delve even further into the murky depths of our grey matter. Searching ultimately for the Rosetta Stone of neuroscience, Greenfield endeavours to find the link between consciousness and the physical processes which are occurring in the brain.

Drawing on personal research and evidence from other neuroscientists, physiologists and psychologists, Greenfield compellingly puts forward her theory that emotions such as fear, euphoria and exhilaration are the very basis of consciousness. Taking the reader firmly yet gently by the hand she begins her journey with the mind of a child. She explains that a child's world is one based purely on the senses, a world dominated by emotions. It is only as one gets older, she argues, and one is faced with unique subjective experiences, leading to the formation of extensive neuronal connections, that an individual's personality, the self, is defined.

With this assumed Greenfield dismisses the idea that emotions and the self are dichotomous but proposes that they are the two ends of the continuum that is consciousness. She looks in depth at the effects on the brain of drug use and the emotional states that drugs can induce. She journeys into the minds of those suffering from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression, painting a picture of the world that these unfortunate sufferers live in. Using such examples Greenfield shows how each of these cases can be explained and understood by her continuum theory, illustrating the brain working in concert with the body and emphasising the importance of not treating the mind and body as separate entities.

Greenfield does not claim to have come up with the definitive answer to the mysteries of neuroscience and there is a possibility that her proffered ideas may not withstand the test of time once they have had the benefit of extra research. However, throughout The Private Life of the Brain Greenfield has put forward her arguments with great originality, enthusiasm and conviction. There is no patronising of the reader by "dumbing down" the science; Greenfield simply has a talent for making the very complex easily digestible by any reader.

If you are looking to expand your mind and make some more neuronal connections in your few pounds of grey matter, then "The Private Life of the Brain" is an essential read for armchair neuroscientists everywhere.

Rebecca Morelle

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