My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I got a review copy of this from First To Read. The description (First line: “Paul Broks weaves together imaginative stories of everything from artificial intelligence to the Greek philosophers in order to sketch a beautiful, inimitable view of humanness that is as heartbreaking at it is affirming.”) grabbed me, so I requested a copy. The rest of the description follows…”When celebrated neuropsychologist Paul Broks’s wife died of cancer, it sparked a journey of grief and reflection […]” I had never heard of Broks so his celebrity might be localized. I am also not all that acquainted with neuropsychology, and had to do a little background research (unnecessary for reading this) to familiarize myself.
Broks writes in his prologue
This is not a conventional book and I think you should know what you’re in for.
He’s right. It’s not. Continuing:
What (I hope) you are about to read is a mix of memoir, neurological case stories, and reflections on life, death and the mind.
In short and long passages, he does all that and more.
Broks’ shares his grief following his wife’s death in PART ONE: A GRIEF OBSERVED, meandering through nonlinear memories, fantasy and myth, and talking points of his trade. (He mentions Julian Jaynes, whose Origin of Consciousness is on my to-read list, nudging the book up a notch or two closer to “eventual”.) The grief is palpable.
In PART TWO: A THOUSAND RED BUTTERFLIES, Broks delves more into his trade, musing much on the nature of consciousness between scientific research and theory and philosophical explorations. I kept having to set the book aside and digest his thoughts. One section prompted a mental WTH? and given that in his prologue he said that facts sit alongside fiction and that he thought the fictional elements were easily identified, I’m not sure if he was serious that not all humans are sentient – at least, that’s what a colleague discovered in that particular story (although…there was considerable evidence of such in 2016 and since, but that would make his 10% far too low…) I won’t spoil where the title of this second part comes from…you’ll have to find that out yourself. I admit that I was, because I am by nature, less enamored of the philosophy elements, but the stories are still good anyway.
Broks recommends reading the first chapters first and the last chapters last and the rest can be skipped around. I imagine that would work for some. I chose to read them in the order presented, and in the last section PART THREE: INTO THE LABYRINTH he mixes more myth and fantasy into his reality. He relives some final days again. Cathartic. And his concept of consciousness congeals here. The pace increases until his coda.
I enjoyed this the more I read. On one hand outside my wheelhouse and life experience. On the other, appealing to my scientific curiosity. I might have to look up Mr. Borks’ other work, but he left me with three other book recommendations that I really want to find and read first. Meanwhile, I expect to reread this again soon.