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Brains, minds and books

Books on the brain and consciousness pour off the presses-from Daniel Dennett, John Searle, Susan Greenfield and others. Andrew Brown surveys the recent literature and asks why our knowledge remains so sketchy and contested

By Andrew Brown   November 1997

Nothing is easier than to familiarise one’s self with the mammalian brain,” wrote William James in Psychology in 1901. “Get a sheep’s head, a small saw, chisel, scalpel and forceps and unravel its parts.”

Nothing as confident as this was written for most of this century until about ten years ago. Discovering where our minds are in our brains suddenly seemed possible again. Behaviourism, which attempted a full description of the mind as if subjectivity were unnecessary, was discredited. New computer techniques made it possible to study living brains at work; and-though this last is hardly admissible-a generation of scientists…

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