The strange, familiar, and forgotten: an anatomy of consciousness

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1992 - Psychology - 157 pages
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For more than a century, neurology and psychology have been dominated by the idea that the brain's Principal activities are unconscious and unknown to us, that consciousness is but a small factor in mental function. Israel Rosenfield's bold new argument in The Strange, Familiar, and Forgotten is that consciousness is in fact the major business of the brain. And he shows for the first time how memories, language, and the thoughts and drives responsible for our everyday sense of life make up the protean and fragile structure of consciousness. Reconsidering famous neurological cases--as well as new evidence from cognitive science--Rosenfield outlines an "anatomy of consciousness" which suggests fascinating new ways to think about mental functions, bodily processes, and human knowledge. The intriguing, often bizarre case histories he recounts--from a patient who cannot accept a paralyzed limb as her own except when she sees it in a mirror, to another who can distinguish colors and yet claims that naming them red, blue, or yellow is "false", to a man who recalls nothing that happened to him in the last eighteen years yet says he saw his mistress "last Saturday", to the woman with contrasting multiple personalities whom William James wrote about--all have in common a breakdown of the neurological mechanisms that create consciousness, that determine how each person perceives and makes sense of the world. For while in ordinary life we take the familiar for granted and can readily forget or remember it, brain damage may transform the once familiar into something strange, alien, or false, and make a once-accessible memory completely disappear. Though the doctors who first studied them did notbelieve it, the now-classic clinical cases show that memories are an integral part of the structure of consciousness. Rejecting the well-known arguments about innate or physically localized centers for memory, language, or other specific mental functions, Rosenfield presents instead a more complex and persuasive picture of how the brain does its work. He focuses on the dynamic, ever-changing "body image" we all have, the basic frame of reference through which we organize stimuli and turn experience into memory. When brain damage alters a person's capacity to sustain the body image and create memories, the very self is changed too. An important challenge to the mechanical two-dimensional ideas that dominate current neurology and psychology, this brilliant book offers a superb interpretation of the origins of human creativity and individuality.

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About the author (1992)

Israel Rosenfield, author of a number of nonfiction books, writes frequently for the "New York Review of Books" & teaches history at City University of New York.

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