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Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology
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Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  892 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
Paul Broks draws on his long experience as a neuropsychologist to create a unique mosaic of neurological tales, metaphysical parables and autobiographical reflections. Interspersing real life stories with speculative fictions, Into the Silent Land describes ordinary people whose extraordinary situations have much to teach us about chance, compassion and human resilience in ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 13th 2004 by Atlantic Books (first published 2003)
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Dec 28, 2007 anthony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
its like if william s. burroughs, italo calvino, and oliver sacks got together for a dreamtime conversation in a floating pool of sulphur
Jun 02, 2008 Shani rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: neuropsychology students
I loved the neuropsych stuff but not the author's own quest into himself. I thought some bits were boring. I wish there was more of the patient's view and less of the aging doctor's.
Oct 07, 2007 Ken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of philosophy, psychology, science, sci fi
I'm going to need a bit more time to absorb this one. :)

In short the book consists of a series of philosophical essays using case studies in clinical neuropsychology, the author's personal musings and science fiction to discover the relationship of "the self" to human biology.

The author uses neuroscience to dispel the common sense notion that there is a self located somewhere in the human brain. He then uses philosophy to undermine the notion that there even is such a thing as self.

He does all t
Other reviewers have noted it's unfair to compare Broks to Sachs, and I agree.

That said, per the "philosophy" angle he brings, I will compare him to somebody else - Dan Dennett.

Some of the essays in this book remind me of some of Dennett's early stuff, like in the book co-written and co-edited with Douglas Hofstadter, "The Mind's I."

Broks' tales in here are less about the patient, in part being a clinical psychologist, and more along the line of philosophical Gedankenexperimenten, or, to use Den
Matthew Green
Broks is such a non-linear thinker that it was almost impossible to follow a through-line to this book, assuming there was one. He doesn't develop a particular idea; rather, he just tells a collection of stories. Those stories are so poetic at times that I wasn't sure I understood what he was getting at, and they often felt like ethereally connected images that I couldn't completely track with. I wish I'd spent the time some other way.
Feb 23, 2013 Crystal rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Broks made an admirable attempt at combining self and others' in this muddled disaster full of his own confusion. He is very clearly unsure of the self, and makes no headway from start to finish in reconciling his own personal struggle with the issues he raises in this book. He seems unable to address any particular topic and this compilation rambles in a manner that leaves no taste for wanting more. As you read you too will be confused. You will ask yourself if this is a fictional novel, a comp ...more
Christopher Campbell
Although not as engrossing as Ramachadran, Paul Broks did stimulate my curiosity with a lay person's novel about clinical psychology. Although primarily interested in the psychological implications of the mind-body problem, Into the Silent Land also dabbled in philosophy and religion, attempting to find the the truth to the question of the self. The work was not exactly a page-turner; at some points I had to take a break in order to both rejuvenate my spirits and assimilate what I had read. Howe ...more
Ruby  Tombstone [With A Vengeance]
Just heard Jane Curtin reading Voodoo Child (Slight Return) on PRI Selected Shorts, and am very excited. It's not often I get to shelve a book with this particular combination of mind-blowing/biology/literary-fiction/nonfiction/metafiction - and I could probably add a few more: postmodern, neurology, psychology, philosophy....... ahhhhh. Great combination.

Story here: NPR Selected Shorts - Complicated Relationships

I look forward to reading the rest of this..
Sarah Milne
Sep 26, 2010 Sarah Milne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, I did not like this. I disliked the tone and the writing. And I get the definite impression that if I met the man I would dislike him, too. Much of this was probably better left in his private journal. Hey, I get it, I can be a bit of a cynic myself, but, dude, you may need medication.
Mar 01, 2016 Leonardo marked it as to-keep-reference  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: neurociencia
La ilusión es irresistible. Detrás de todo rostro hay un yo. Vemos una señal de conciencia en cada ojo que parpadea e imaginamos algún es-pacio etéreo detrás del cráneo, encendido por patrones móviles de sentimiento y pensamiento, cargados de intenciones. Una esencia. Pe-ro cuando miramos, ¿qué vemos en ese espacio detrás del rostro? El hecho descarnado es que no hay nada salvo sustancia material: carne, sangre, huesos y cerebro [...]. Miramos en una cabeza abierta, contem-plando cómo late el ce ...more
Wants to be a book by DennnettHofstadterSacks but is actually a rudimentary, and oddly depressing, look at the problems of consciousness.
May 01, 2015 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psych-reference
Trying to be the next Oliver Sacks. Failed.
Halfway in, and I can't stand this book. Dr. Broks wants me to believe that he contemplates philosophical questions about self and identity every time he works with a patient, and, well, I just want to hear his patients' fascinating stories without pages of romanticized airs in between. I have to take frequent breaks from reading or else I'm going to go cross-eyed from rolling my eyes after every other sentence: "The illusion is irresistible. Behind every face there is a self...The brute fact is ...more
Jane Reye
Mar 15, 2016 Jane Reye rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind! What ineffable essences, these touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries! And the privacy of it all! A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries. A whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can. A hidden he
Richard Powers, in a recent essay on place and fiction, calls this a "chimerical excursion [...] with its collage of neuroscience, clinical case histories, memoir, philosophical essay, and bare naked short story. Broks’s essays prove that there is no Self, no master narrative holding us together; but his fictive personal memoir can’t escape having one. The brain is condemned to think that it’s a soul, and to describe that impossible hybrid state [...]."

I wish more books ended with an epigraph.

Bobbi Boyle
Oct 06, 2015 Bobbi Boyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book certainly wasn't what I expected. I bought this book thinking I was going to dive into some applied neuroscience and that was it. This book was more of a bizarre shadow of his personal side of the places being a neuropsychologist has taken him. I was not at all disappointed though, that I opened this book up and was taken to another place then expected. Broks is an accomplished neuropsychologist..getting a glimpse into his life work was titillating. I spent many nights cuddled up in be ...more
Oct 13, 2012 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm in a "How does the brain work" pattern of reading, so I got this on from the library. Yes, there is information on how the brain works with anecdotes of patients Brok has treated or read about but the thing that makes this book different is the way Brok probes into the realm of philosophy. If the brain is just "meat," where is that which makes the person. He never calls it a "soul" because he doesn't believe in the soul as commonly defined. But his points are intriguing and thought-provoking ...more
Feb 11, 2009 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: materialists, idealists, dualists, egotists, mysterians
Recommended to Kevin by: all in the mind, abc radio national australia
Shelves: non-fiction
With your feet in the air/
And your head on the ground/
Try this trick and spin it/
Your head will collapse/
But there's nothing in it/
And you'll ask yourself/
Where is my mind?

This might be a dangerous book for those with a fragile sense of self, but required reading for anyone with a big ego. It is certainly an incredible achievement. Paul Broks manages to elucidate current ideas surrounding the brain/mind dilemma in a provocative style sometimes reminiscent of a novel or innerspace travelogue. If
Jan 03, 2012 Kriegslok rated it it was amazing
A fascinating glimpse into the world of neuropsychology. The more misanthropic and resigned to the stupidity of humanity I become the more interested I am actually becoming in what makes us tick and why we are the way we are. This is a fascinating and easily readable book that makes you think. From what it is that creates our feeling of self-consciousness to whether we actually exist at all it's all touched on in a work which is as much philosophical as it is scientific. My appetite has been wet ...more
Jun 26, 2012 Lisa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
some really sad and introspective moments in this book, but overall it wasn't for me.

it was kind of like the author was trying too hard to be poetic and deep, to make the reader feel these poignant situations. but neurological disorders don't really need any literary tricks to get across their poignancy and sadness, so mostly i ended up rolling my eyes or skimming over his poetic musings.

harold klawans and oliver sacks are waaaaaay better at writing this kind of neuro-case study.

that being said
Oct 24, 2010 Michaeld rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Paul does a phenomenal job in sharing his case studies and then incorporating situations that make you think harder about reality.
At times, I get crazy about case studies involving Neuropsychology; on the other end, I'm always nuts for stories that are crisp and incredibly thought provoking.
In this book, Paul introduces a conflict involving a teleporter, which truly brings out a certain struggle of reality. Granted, at this point we have no real form of transferring matter from one area to anoth
Aug 03, 2015 Reggie rated it really liked it
Fascinating, beautiful, and surprisingly poignant read. I'm still coming to terms with the conundrums and challenges presented within. I appreciated how, while decided in his beliefs and views, Broks still allowed the book to focus on the questions and explorations.
Mar 27, 2015 Chloe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amazing but a bit bizarre towards the end.
Nick Davies
Feb 13, 2016 Nick Davies rated it liked it
Aspects of this book were very interesting, especially with regards discussion of neuropsychology illustrated with relevant case studies. The science aspect of the book was spot on - I just felt that the author overstretched himself when talking about the more philosophical aspects of the self - within the context of a 'science' book, non-tangible discussion about the 'location of the soul' didn't really absorb me. I have set it aside to read again, however, to give it a fair chance to impress.
Feb 04, 2008 Brandie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is great for its case studies, but some of Broks musings are a bit too much for my tastes. I don't really care to hear a neurologist (or anyone, for that matter) say "despite myself, I fear for my soul."
But some people like that stuff, I guess. And he gets a little to literary at times, too. I like my sentences straightforward, especially in science books.
Not too exciting, I know.
In any event, it's an interesting read!
Apr 22, 2013 Pat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For someone like me, who has no knowledge of neurology, this was a very accessible introduction to some of the issues, especially relating to identity and a person's sense of themselves. I came away largely mystified, but in a good way. Broks writes well, and I'd recommend this short book to anyone who likes to think about some of the fundamentals in life, for a change. It's certainly not heavy or technical.
Aug 31, 2011 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting book but not quite what I was expecting. I was expecting a Sachs style set of case studies with a more modern explanation of the brain disorders behind the cases. There was some of that, however there was also much more. A lot of philosophy and personal/fictional accounts. I struggled a bit with the philosophy and I was not sure what to make of the personal/fictional accounts.
Feb 24, 2013 Jill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written by a neuropsychologist, this is essentially an exploration on the nature of identity - ego - id - who or what is "I".

Using case studies, autobiograhical thoughts/stories and philosphical ideas, this raised for me some interesting questions - no answers but that is the joy of this read - it promotes thinking.

Try it, it's well worth a read.
Captain Caper
Mar 23, 2016 Captain Caper rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Too anecdotal for me.
This is an engaging exploration of the mind/body enigma, and other neuro-psychological realities, following the format of short stories and accounts. Broks' examinations of the construction of souls and extent of self add to this book's blend of straight forward and complex intellectual attraction.
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"Paul Broks is an English neuropyschologist and science writer. He is currently Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Plymouth and Honorary Consultant in Neuropsychology. He is a regular contributor to Prospect and has written for The Times, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, and Granta.

Paul Broks trained as a clinical psychologist at Oxford University and went on to specialize i
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“From a neuroscience perspective we are all divided and discontinuous. The mental processes underlying our sense of self-- feelings, thoughts, memories-- are scattered through different zones of the brain. There is no special point of convergence. No cockpit of the soul. No soul-pilot. They come together in a work of fiction. A human being is a story-telling machine. The self is a story.” 3 likes
“Are you all right?'
'It's okay,' he says, 'I think I just swallowed some dark.'
He has the notion that darkness is a substance. It will make you choke if you swallow too much in one go. I could have put him straight with some prosaic account of the coughing reflex being triggered by the shock of the cold air rather than a mouthful of darkness, but I didn't I stashed away the treasured image and left him with the version of reality fashioned by his infant brain.”
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