Oliver Sacks – De rivier van het bewustzijn

Beschrijvende casuïstiek sierde neuroloog Oliver Sacks bij leven. De patiënten die hij tegenkwam in zijn praktijk en visites, plus beroemde gevallen van neurologische stoornissen uit de 19e en 20e eeuw vormden de inspiratie voor veel van zijn boeken. Als nalatenschap, voorbij The Last Interview, is een aantal essays gebundeld over thema’s als de (ervaren) snelheid van tijd, evolutie, herinnering, plagiaat, imitereen en naäpen, bewustzijn van mens, dier en plant, en ervaringen. De studies laten zien dat de belangstelling van Sacks veel breder was dan neurologie. Chemie was zijn eerste liefde, onder biologen voelt hij zich ook thuis. Aan het eind van het boek zoomt hij nog verder uit, zich verwonderend over wetenschappelijke doorbraken en herontdekkingen van inzichten die soms eeuwen geleden al gedaan zijn en vervolgens zijn ‘vergeten’.

De rivier van het bewustzijn neemt je mee naar de onderzoeken van Charles Darwin, de verrassende jonge jaren van Sigmund Freud, inzichten in een bewustzijn en leervermogen bij planten en zelfs eencellige organismen. Tourette en Parkinson, de rol van L-dopa (bekende stof voor lezers van Ontwaken in verbijstering of publiek van de verfilming in Awakenings (1990), Hellen Keller tot jonge kunststudenten die in het Louvre imiteren. Er valt nog veel te ontdekken voor wetenschappers. Dank aan Otto Biersma en Luud Dorresteyn voor de soepele vertaling van The River of Consciousness dat Oliver Sacks twee weken voor zijn dood in augustus 2015 ter publicatie had overgedragen. Een leerzame erfenis.

About the author
Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE, was a British neurologist residing in the United States, who has written popular books about his patients, the most famous of which is Awakenings, which was adapted into a film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

Sacks was the youngest of four children born to a prosperous North London Jewish couple: Sam, a physician, and Elsie, a surgeon. When he was six years old, he and his brother were evacuated from London to escape The Blitz, retreating to a boarding school in the Midlands, where he remained until 1943. During his youth, he was a keen amateur chemist, as recalled in his memoir Uncle Tungsten. He also learned to share his parents’ enthusiasm for medicine and entered The Queen’s College, Oxford University in 1951, from which he received a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in physiology and biology in 1954. At the same institution, he went on to earn in 1958, a Master of Arts (MA) and an MB ChB in chemistry, thereby qualifying to practice medicine.

After converting his British qualifications to American recognition (i.e., an MD as opposed to MB ChB), Sacks moved to New York, where he has lived since 1965, and taken twice weekly therapy sessions since 1966.

Sacks began consulting at chronic care facility Beth Abraham Hospital (now Beth Abraham Health Service) in 1966. At Beth Abraham, Sacks worked with a group of survivors of the 1920s sleeping sickness, encephalitis lethargica, who had been unable to move on their own for decades. These patients and his treatment of them were the basis of Sacks’ book Awakenings.

His work at Beth Abraham helped provide the foundation on which the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function (IMNF), where Sacks is currently an honorary medical advisor, is built. In 2000, IMNF honored Sacks, its founder, with its first Music Has Power Award. The IMNF again bestowed a Music Has Power Award on Sacks in 2006 to commemorate “his 40 years at Beth Abraham and honor his outstanding contributions in support of music therapy and the effect of music on the human brain and mind”.

Sacks was formerly employed as a clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and at the New York University School of Medicine, serving the latter school for 42 years. On 1 July 2007, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons appointed Sacks to a position as professor of clinical neurology and clinical psychiatry, at the same time opening to him a new position as “artist”, which the university hoped will help interconnect disciplines such as medicine, law, and economics. Sacks was a consultant neurologist to the Little Sisters of the Poor, and maintained a practice in New York City.

Since 1996, Sacks was a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters (Literature). In 1999, Sacks became a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences. Also in 1999, he became an Honorary Fellow at The Queen’s College, Oxford. In 2002, he became Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Class IV—Humanities and Arts, Section 4—Literature).[38] and he was awarded the 2001 Lewis Thomas Prize by Rockefeller University. Sacks was awarded honorary doctorates from the College of Staten Island (1991), Tufts University (1991), New York Medical College (1991), Georgetown University (1992), Medical College of Pennsylvania (1992), Bard College (1992), Queen’s University (Ontario) (2001), Gallaudet University (2005), University of Oxford (2005), Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (2006). He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours. Asteroid 84928 Oliversacks, discovered in 2003 and 2 miles (3.2 km) in diameter, has been named in his honor.

Dean Burnett – Een steekje los: de werking van ons absurde brein

De Nederlandse vertaling van The Idiot Brain van neurowetenschapper, docent Psychologie, stand-up comedian en schrijver, Een steekje los: de werking van ons absurde brein, is een bijna 300 pagina’s tellende bijpraat-sessie van huidige inzichten in de complexiteit, absurditeit en wonderlijke werking van het menselijke brein. Sinds Oliver Sacks spraakmakende boeken maakte van de casuïstiek in zijn behandelkamers en visitaties, zijn de neurowetenschappelijke mogelijkheden enorm toegenomen, hersengebieden die eerder verantwoordelijk werden gehouden voor gedrag en beweging, deels beter in kaart en tegelijkertijd onderdeel van grotere structuren. De auteur blijft weg van de vraag of je persoonlijkheid of geest nou 100% samenvalt met je brein, maar behandelt meer dan genoeg vragen om je een boeiende leestijd en verwerking ervan te bieden.

Humor, gezichtsherkenning, routinematige handelingen, complottheorieën, het stuitje, IQ-metingen en de invloed van drugs zijn een handvol van de vele in acht hoofdstukken beschreven ziektebeelden, aandoeningen, gedragingen en gedachten. Dat normaal niet bestaat, stelde wijlen Sacks ook al. Bij elk mensen zitten één of meer steekjes los. Al ontkomt Brunett niet aan vaktermen, leest Een steekje los vlot, dankzij de soepele vertaling van Cornelis van Ginneken die de nuchtere schrijfstijl en de humor van de schrijver intact liet.

About the author

Dean Burnett is a neuroscientist and psychiatry lecturer at the Centre for Medical Education at Cardiff University and is the author of the Guardian’s most-read science blog, Brain Flapping. He lives in Cardiff.

Judith Grisel – Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction

After years of experience as drugs addict, Judith Grisel got sober and embraced the chance to scientifically study the mechanisms underneath addictive substances, and their consequences on behavior. Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction is her accessible and authoritative guide through a taxonomy of stimulants, depressants, uppers and downers, alcoholics, plants, liquids, pills, and needles.

Addiction today is epidemic and catastrophic. The personal and social consequences of this widespread and relentless urge are almost too large to grasp. In the United States alone some 16 percent of the population aged twelve and above meet criteria for a substance use disorder. In purely financial terms, it costs more than five times as much as AIDS and twice as much as cancer. The book highlights the current knowledge neuroscience has brought on this topic. How are substances transmitted into cells, synapses and influence behavior, central nerve system, and impact movements, speech, memory, fetus’ health, etcetera? When any drug has an effect, it’s due to the drug’s chemical actions on brain structures. For most drugs of abuse, we know precisely which structures are modified, and this gives us a really good start to understand how they make us feel the way they do. Yet, there’s still much we don’t know yet.

The bottom line in is this book is that there can never be enough drug. Because of the brain’s tremendous capacity to adapt, it’s impossible for a regular user to get high, and the best a voracious appetite for more drug can hope to accomplish is to stave off withdrawal. This situation is best recognized as a dead end, in the most literal sense. But to wait for a biomedical or any outside cure is to miss asking questions of ourselves and considering our own role in the epidemic. While we are at it, instead of wringing our hands, we might try holding one another’s.

About the author
Judith Grisel, Ph.D., is a behavioral neuroscientist and a professor of psychology at Bucknell University. She has been awarded more than a million dollars in federal funding to pursue research on the causes of drug abuse. Her work focuses on what in the brain predisposes people to addiction, and her most recent paper revealed a genetic risk for alcoholism in women.

I received a free review copy from the DoubleDay through Edelweiss in exchange for my personal, unbiased opinion upon reading.

Leonard Mlodinow – Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change

In Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change Leonard Mlodinow takes his audience into a neurology refresher crash course. While for a long time rational, analytical, top-down driven thought ruled, latest insights favor the potential of our elastic thinking. Humans follow scripts, preprogrammed behavior e.g. fight or flight responses or navigating home. The way our brains have to accommodate the changed circumstances, the information overload, and new challenges ahead. Conclusions are reached from the bottom up through the minute interactions of billions of networked neurons in a process too complex to be detailed step by step. Neuroplasticity is no longer a new field such as when the late Oliver Sacks penned down his case studies in popular books. Progression in medical science, development of brain scanning technologies, and a better understanding of the effects of certain drugs, substances, and food. Psychologists and neuroscientists are only now working out the science of elastic thinking, although we humans have turned our powers of elastic thinking toward improving or enhancing our everyday existence.

Part 1 of the book explores the reasons for adapting our thinking to change, and why our brains are good at it. How humans (and other creatures) take in information and process it, so that they can innovate to meet the challenges of novelty and change is addressed in part 2. Part 3 is about how the brain attacks problems and generates new ideas and solutions. Leonard Mlodinow uses many examples from daily life, neurological disorders, and explains how abilities such as neophilia, pattern recognition, idea generation, divergent thinking, imagination, balance, and reconcile work. Research on the brain’s role in these traits constitutes one of the hottest new directions in both psychology and neuroscience. I really enjoyed Elastic as a recent update from these fields.

About the author

Leonard Mlodinow was born in Chicago, Illinois, received his PhD in theoretical physics from the University of California at Berkeley, and is the author of five best-sellers. His book The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives was a New York Times Bestseller, Editor’s Choice, and Notable Book of the Year, and was short-listed for the Royal Society book award. His book Subliminal won the PEN/Wilson award for literary science writing. His other books include two co-authored with the late physicist Stephen HawkingA Briefer History of Time, and The Grand Design. In addition to his books and research articles, he has taught at Caltech, written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Forbes magazine, among other publications, and for television series such as McGyver and Star Trek: the Next Generation.

I received a free review copy from Penguin Random House via Edelweiss in exchange for my personal, unbiased review upon reading.

Suzanne Weusten – Hoe we onszelf voor de gek houden: ABC van denkfouten

Psychologe Suzanne Weusten kreeg het idee voor een alfabetische ordening van denkfouten in 2012. De rubriek ABC van denkfouten verscheen in 26 wekelijkse afleveringen in de Volkskrant van augustus 2012 tot maart 2013. In juni 2013 verscheen het gelijknamige boekje, dat me onlangs opviel bij de bibliotheek als ‘nieuwe aanwinst’. Het is een vermakelijke, herkenbare reeks drogredenen, shortcuts die onze hersenen nemen in de voorkeur voor een gemakkelijke weg, herhalen wat we (denken te) weten en trucjes om risico’s te mijden. Van selectieve waarneming, cognitieve dissonantie, information bias tot magisch denken, verloren-kostenfout en zero risk bias. Weusten geeft bij elke denkfout praktische voorbeelden, de bijbehorende psychologische onderzoeken en verklaring voor het optreden. Ons vooringenomen brein houdt ons vaker voor de gek dan je denkt.

Over de auteur

Suzanne Weusten (1953) is psycholoog en publicist. Ze is oprichter van De Denkacademie, de opleidingentak van De Argumentenfabriek, en geeft trainingen in helder denken en argumenteren. Daarnaast recenseert ze non-fictie op het gebied van psychologie en filosofie voor de Volkskrant en voor SkiprZe is programmamaker bij Human. Het tv-programma Dat Had Je Gedacht (uitgezonden op vier donderdagavonden op NPO2 in november 2017) is gebaseerd op haar nieuwste boek: Wij zijn slim

Na haar studie psychologie aan de Radboud universiteit doceerde ze dit vak in het hoger onderwijs. Medio jaren tachtig maakte ze de overstap naar de journalistiek. Ze was adjunct-hoofdredacteur van Intermediair en FEM en hoofdredacteur van Psychologie Magazine, dat onder haar leiding transformeerde van populair-wetenschappelijk blad naar publiekstijdschrift, de oplage verdubbelde en werd uitgeroepen tot Tijdschrift van het Jaar.

Van 2003 tot 2009 was ze lid van de hoofdredactie van de Volkskrant, waar ze onder andere verantwoordelijk was voor de zaterdagkrant en het personeelsbeleid. Ze publiceerde veel over emotionele intelligentie, psychologie en leiderschap. In deze periode was ze namens het Genootschap van hoofdredacteuren lid van het bestuur van de Raad voor de Journalistiek.