The Broken Brain: The Biological Revolution in Psychiatry
by Nancy C. Andreasen MD, Ph.D.
Harper and Row, 278 pp., $17.95
Brain, Mind, and Behavior
by Floyd E. Bloom, by Arlyne Lazerson, by Laura Hofstadter
W.H. Freeman, 323 pp., $23.95
The Amazing Brain
by Robert Ornstein, by Richard F. Thompson, illustrated by David Macaulay
Houghton Mifflin, 213 pp., $16.95
by Richard M. Restak MD
Bantam, 373 pp., $24.95
a documentary series produced by WNET/Thirteen (New York)
In 1895 Freud wrote his last work on the physiology of the nervous system. For the rest of his life he paid little attention to developments in neurobiology, a neglect characteristic of most modern therapists and psychologists. But recent work in the neurosciences has begun to challenge the separation of psychology from neurobiology. Mentally crippling diseases such as depression and schizophrenia (the latter considered by Freud beyond the reach of psychoanalysis) can now, in varying degrees, be relieved or controlled. Their physiological mechanisms, as well as those of other diseases, are beginning to be discerned. And the neuroanatomy and chemistry of moods and emotions are no longer complete mysteries. The observations of psychology and psychoanalysis are becoming part of a larger body of knowledge whose central questions concern the mechanisms and functions of the human brain.
But how “revolutionary” are the new discoveries in the neurosciences? Nancy Andreasen’s new book The Broken Brain gives an enthusiastic report on what she calls “the biological revolution in psychiatry.” The PBS television series The Brain and the books written to accompany it, Brain, Mind, and Behavior (an undergraduate textbook) and The Brain, more cautiously suggest that the remarkable findings of the past two decades may unravel the mysteries of the brain. Ornstein and Thompson, in The Amazing Brain, give a clear account of recent research without making undue claims about its consequences.
These works revise in some detail the popularizations of ten years ago. They retain the late-nineteenth-century view that the brain can be understood through studies of the local functioning of its separate parts and combine it with recent discoveries of the details of brain chemistry. Our ways of understanding the brain, however, have changed dramatically in the past decade and much of the excitement of that change has been missed by the authors and scriptwriters of these books and television programs.
Localization of function was the principal issue at the Seventh International Medical Congress, meeting in London in 1881. At that meeting, Frederick Goltz, a forty-seven-year-old professor of physiology at the University of Strasbourg, opened a suitcase and removed the damaged head of a dog. The dog, he explained, had survived four major operations on its brain before it had been killed, and its mental and physical functions had been badly impaired. But not a muscle of its body was paralyzed, not a spot on its hide was robbed of sensation. It was neither blind, nor had it lost the sense of smell.
Goltz’s purpose in demonstrating this damaged dog was to prove that brain function was not localized. Dogs might become imbeciles if they lost most of their brains, but they could still run, jump, hear, and smell.
David Ferrier, then a thirty-eight-year-old London physician who had been born near Aberdeen, had performed a series of experiments on monkeys at the West Riding Lunatic Asylum in 1873 and had come to a very different conclusion. At the same congress of 1881, Ferrier showed two monkeys from which he …
Electroconvulsive Therapy: An Exchange May 30, 1985