Soul Made Flesh Plus Four

Uta Frith, a world expert on autism, has listed Soul Made Flesh as one of her favorite books about the mind over at the web site Five Books:

I admire communicators who tell you about complex matters, which you would otherwise have little hope of learning about. I write scientific books so I understand how difficult it is. This book is a book about science and at the same time a book about history, and I love reading about the history of science. Here he writes about the beginnings of the Royal Society in the 17th century.

Thomas Willis is the main hero of the book. He was a doctor who began studying the brain itself in the turbulent time of the Civil War. Christopher Wren, famed for building St Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire of London, did some beautiful anatomically accurate drawings of the brain, which was interesting to find out about. And you have the astonishing idea that the brain produces the mind – and in Zimmer’s words, the soul is made flesh – which even today many people find hard to accept.

What I like about this book is that it is not just about the early history of how people came to study the brain, but it is also about recent brain science, where scanners are used to watch what happens in the brain while it is thinking. One of the ideas he tells about is some research I myself was involved with, the brain’s ‘Theory of Mind’. It is a strange concept, which is historically linked with autism. This is the idea that one of the fundamental problems in autism is an inability to understand that other people have minds that explain and predict their behaviour. And I find Zimmer’s account very interesting. We need to find out how the mind can go wrong in such a way that autism results and what it is that stops the ability to socially interact and communicate.

Check out her other four picks here.

0 thoughts on “Soul Made Flesh Plus Four

  1. Honestly, my foremost thoughts about autism these days are that this ‘broader autistic phenotype’ thing is just the attempt of people who clearly do not realize the adaptive quality of being able to depend more on your sense of logic, which is controllable and usually more in tune with reality if you are sufficiently intelligent and appraised of reality and have access to information and do not have any other underlying conditions such as depression, than your emotions, and indeed to even use your emotions to an adaptive extent.

    Example (an extreme one): Religious cults who stand motionless in the face of an impending disaster or who bring it on themselves – say, the Jonestown kooks who drank the Kool-Aid – versus people who have the sense to get control of themselves and actually do something adaptive. Or, for example, people at sea who instead of freaking out in the face of impending sinking, get straight to work abandoning ship.

    Why does psychology hate smart, logical, nerdy human beings who may have a better grasp on reality than those around them?

  2. Psychology gets accused of a lot of things. Just got through the comments on a story about the origins of creativity/schizophrenia in which psychology was accused of denigrating the emotional/creative aspects of humanness in favor of the smart and logical. Go figure.

  3. Katherine, most of us psychologists ARE smart, logical, nerdy human beings. I think you might be mistaken in two ways. First, I sense no “hate” for those who think differently. Psychology embraces human diversity and tries to reduce stigma toward those who are different. Personally, I love smart nerdy people, and I’m happily married to one. We’re both psychologists. Hooray for freethinkers.

    Second, it’s true that logical thinking is hard and doesn’t come naturally. You have to learn how to do it, whether you’re autistic or not. The idea that we’d all be better decision makers without emotion is probably wrong. Mr. Spock is not based in reality, it turns out. People who suddenly lose their emotionality due to brain damage tend to become lousy decision makers. Most of our mental shortcuts that we rely on everyday are not really using logic, but rely on other tricks to usually come up with the right answer. Some of those tricks involve emotion.

    I love “Soul Made Flesh”, by the way.

  4. Hi Carl,

    Huge fan. Your work, shining a light on current science, is an inspiration and a treat. You are the true champion those brilliant, hard-working scientists so well deserve.

    I haven’t read Soul Made Flesh yet and would love to purchase it digitally? You have hinted in the past there there is something in the works? Are there any developments that you can share (or have shared and I’ve missed)?

    CZ: I’m hoping there will be ebook editions of Soul Made Flesh and my other paper-only books before too long. I’ll post updates as I get them.

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