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The Man Who Wasn't There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  1,101 ratings  ·  168 reviews
In the tradition of Oliver Sacks, a tour of the latest neuroscience of schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, ecstatic epilepsy, Cotard’s syndrome, out-of-body experiences, and other disorders—revealing the awesome power of the human sense of self from a master of science journalism.

Anil Ananthaswamy’s extensive in-depth interviews venture into the lives of individual
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published August 4th 2015 by Dutton
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What was most interesting about this book was the exploration of phantom limb pain after an amputation and BIID (people who want limbs amputated because they feel the limb doesn't 'belong' to them). People with BIID do not get phantom limb pain. I have read explanations of phantom limb pain before but never quite so clearly.

We have a map of our bodies on our brains, physically. Areas with a lot of feeling, like fingers or lips, are bigger than those with less feeling, say an elbow. If a limb is
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Jul 30, 2015 marked it as goldfinch-in-juice
 photo van-gogh-a-pair-of-shoes_zpsjvqubq4b.jpg

One can no more get from neurons and brain tissue to something nebulously chanted as ‘sense of self’ than one can arrive from a chemical analysis of the paint slapped onto van Gogh’s canvas “A Pair of Shoes” to what Heidegger rigorously calls ‘the world of the peasant’. Naturally, it is of value to perform chemical analyses of van Gogh’s paint ; and valuable to map the neuronal structures of various brain=regions. And of course some people may say that the world of the peasant, and with it,
Nov 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I picked this up because it was compared to Oliver Sach's great, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. This is similar in that he uses some case histories of schizophrenia, autism, BID (body image disorder) to discuss what is our self. There were some really interesting discussions on what it is that schizophrenics actually hear (themselves, but they don't recognize it as themselves), what BID patients suffer when they don't recognize a part of their body as themselves, etc. Unfortunately he w ...more
May 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
The Man Who Wasn't There by Anil Annthaswamy is a free NetGalley ebook that I read throughout early July. Intrigued by the subtitle 'New Science of the Self,' I knew that I had to read this book.

This book sits in the perfect sweet spot between social theory and abnormal psychology with its inclusion of philosophical concepts, important professional opinion, and patient input. It's easy to tuck into during a relaxed moment, yet intensely transportive with its topics.
Aug 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Before I begin, I thought I'd let you know: You don't exist. Hope you don't mind me telling you that. Just thought it might be helpful in your dealings with the world . . . which in its own way, I guess, also does not exist. Oh . . . and by the way, I'm not joking. You really don't exist. But don't feel bad because either do I. And like you, I sure feel like I exist.

"It seems outlandish that the centerless universe, in all its spatio-temporal immensity, should have produced me, of all people .
Chris Roberts
Aug 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2015
I, Madness

And I will be the first to acknowledge that I am mad. And too I am supreme dementia. And every form and diagnosis and every schizophrenic disassociation of the cognitive mind and every outburst of flame in the words of a schizophrenic and every grandiose height of soprano song of this beautifully wracking affliction. And I am bi-polar and the impossible heightened sensation of being alive and the non-stop imagination and the lunatic rush of rapid thoughts and action and I am the empty
Jun 25, 2015 rated it liked it
ARC from NetGalley for review.

Who am I? Is there really a "self"? If so, does it exist in the brain? Or does the Buddhist notion of "no-self" win out?

Generally questions for philosophers, but Ananthaswamy explores what neuroscientists can add the equation, specifically through certain disorders and illnesses which, by necessity, impact an individual's view of "self" and he spends a chapter exploring each one, Cotard's syndrome (when a person believes he or she is dead), Alzheimer's, schizophre
Sep 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in neuroscience-oriented explanations for brain behavior.
Recommended to Paul by: No one recommended this book to me, but I was intrigued by the title enough to buy it.
I expected this book to be about interesting brain anomalies in the fashion of Oliver Sacks. The first part of it did indeed fill that bill, but by the end of the book, the author was discussing whether we have a self or don't, and it took me an hour to read the epilogue (of course, I fell asleep twice).

The first part of the book kept underlining how amazing it was that any given emotion could be found in a particular area of the brain. This was not of much interest to me, because if you know th
Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
I was 20 pages from the end, but didn't finish the book before I returned it to the library. I skipped through hoping to get engaged but never did. The author somehow seemed to be reporting on people and their issues about self from a distance. Something about this book is quite different from the Oliver Sacks books I enjoyed.
Sue Smith
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Who am I?

What makes the self in myself?

You think you know the answer to this question but it’s a lot more complicated than what you think it is. How did you become you? When did you start identifying yourself? When did you realize that your consciousness and experiences and perceptions are only your own and no one elses?

Once you start the flood of questions, the dam unleashes and there is no end of dizzying thought. It’s almost inconceivable in it’s complexity and the combinations and permutat
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An exceptional book, this is the first book I have read which explores the SELF through neuroscience, psychology, religion and philosophy . I have no similar books on my list to compare it to.It helped me understand the nuanced nature of this narrative called SELF .
A perfectly functioning body,mind,brain alludes very little information on how each of us perceives the world differently , has a unique personality and the inner workings of course which are barely perceptible even to ourselves some
Susan Oleksiw
Feb 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In my grandparents' day, a family kept quiet about anyone who was regarded as different. If a son had schizophrenia or any other malady, he was quietly moved away to an asylum. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. As a result, all of us are more likely to be familiar with the varied ways the brain chooses to function outside what is considered the norm. We are more likely to be familiar with epilepsy, BIID (body integrity identify disorder), severe depression, schizophrenia, and other seriou ...more
Jul 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
It's quite depressing that the only way to prove that something is a product of the brain is to show how that thing gets messed up when some part of the brain is damaged. That shows how little we understand of the brain. I can't quite explain how it is possible that a collection of neurons give rise to the sense of self, but if you go and muck with the brain you get all these weird neurological conditions in which the idea of the self is altered or entirely disappears. That's essentially all neu ...more
Nov 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-reads, audio
Profound ontological case studies. Confluences of applied brain research and philosophical theories of mind/brain. The chapters on autism and out-of-body experiences were particularly interesting. This provided my second literary encounter this month with BIID (body identity integrity disorder) - something I previously knew nothing about (and don't wish to hear about again for a long time) - but Ananthawamy's explanation helped me understand the neurological causes for wishing to have a limb amp ...more
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Like I sad before, it's a bit heavy on the research side so if you're looking for more of a narrative experience I wouldn't paricularly recommend this unless you're fine with having bits of narrative in between research and jargin then I would DEFINITELY recommend this book.

The human mind is fascinating.
Is there an independant self outside of the brain and body? This book makes me seriously question that notion.
Aug 10, 2015 rated it liked it
The book presented interesting examples and intriguing ideas, but I didn't like the author's style of writing (I thought he was often unclear).
Mar 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent overview of the current state of the 'hard problem' of consciousness.

For me, the only downsides were some minor editing glitches (using a term like 'grand mal' seizure without first defining it for a non-technical audience) and some omissions, such as:

- he never really explores/fully defines the 'hard problem' of consciousness in any detail, and

- I found the lack of a discussion of will/willpower strangely absent in a book that ostensibly promotes the idea of the brain as
Mar 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-books
Wow, I really liked this. I was already familiar with the writings of Anil Ananthaswamy in "New Scientist" (London based weekly science magazine). This book reminded me how I felt so long ago when I read the works of Oliver Sacks - excited and motivated to learn more. Who is the "I" who suffers from Body Integrity Identity Disorder, schizophrenia, alzheimer's, the doppelganger effect, etc?

Ananthaswamy does an excellent job of weaving the personalized and often emotional case study with the known
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
You had me at "In the tradition of Oliver Sacks..."

I love listening to scientific books, but not being a scientist myself, need a particular type of science writing. I want to go in depth into whatever subject is being explored, but I need the author to perform that particularly impressive feat of giving me some basic background without boring me or making me feel talked down to. Sacks, in his psychological case studies, mastered this talent, covering many of the fascinating, horrifying, sad and
Sep 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you are like me and like to read true stories regarding psychological and neurological disorders then you will want to check out this book. I found this book to be an very thought-provoking, intriguing read. I was had heard of and was kind of familiar with BIID (body integrity identity disorder) but if asked I could not really describe to you what this disorder is all about. This disorder really fascinated me. The way that sufferers experience depression towards their healthy limbs because th ...more
Sep 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Yes. I finished this book at 6 am on Yom Kippur. What of it? Apparently it took me unusually long to read this one, & I must extend my apologies to those who were awaiting this update (you know who you are). You see, this is a well-researched, broad AND deep look at the construct of the self, through the lens of neuroscience, philosophy, mysticism, psychology, and religion. Not only does it require a lot of thought and reflection, but it also triggered in me a massive physical reaction that requ ...more
Sep 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Man Who Wasn’t There explores neuroscience of the most fascinating and mind-bending sort. Ananthaswamy does begin with the most dramatic of the conditions he is exploring, Cotard’s syndrome, in which the patient believes herself to be dead. But in general this is a very sober and analytic investigation. Ananthaswamy is delving deep, and his explanations are detailed; he is willing to dig into nuance rather than oversimplifying matters. He has a tendency to interleave explanations and example ...more
Beverly K
Aug 24, 2015 added it
Shelves: won-t-read
Too much philosophy for my tastes. Do I really care about how the 'self' is viewed as a narrative versus self as an object versus etc.? No, no, I do not. I started getting bored by the 80 page mark and my interest was only mildly piqued by schizophrenia.

I tried. Blah. I should have taken this book out of the library.
Oct 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It is wonderful that we have a narrative about ourselves which is only partially correct. There is so much we don't know and will never know about ourselves. Anil writes about how our brains works, or in some cases, doesn't work. He explains such things a autism and phantom limbs, people who have their legs amputated because they think the legs belong to someone else. Fascinating!
Alan Lengel
May 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Modernism in art seems to represent schizophrenia: Picasso, Miro, Kafka, Elliot and Joyce. Can those affected perceive warnings of suicide or paranoia? Oliver Sacks earlier described the kinds of hallucinations I experience (although less frequently). Mine are visual, not auditory. The chapter on OBE touched me deeply.
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've read in a long time. Helped me to understand how the brain works and it's relationship to the self, being and consciousness. There's so much going on in this book. It's incredibly interesting and I learned so much.
Sep 04, 2015 rated it did not like it
A bit like dissecting a frog in high school biology class to bring your understanding of anatomy to life. Self as pathology warrants a mister yuk sticker from me.
Bill Pritchard
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
There must have been a time in our evolutionary past when the first glimmers of the self-as-knower appeared. It must have been a momentous biological event. And it gave our ancestors a survival advantage. To be aware of one's own body, to be able to direct one's attention to it, must have been an evolutionary leg up. But this self-process - a complex interaction of the activity of various brain regions - was still meant to control one's body. As we evolved further, we developed the various forms ...more
Bernie Gourley
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in the debate about whether there is a self and--if so--what it is.
What is the self, and is the self a distinct entity as we feel it to be? Those are questions that philosophers and theologians have been debating for centuries, and they’re the questions at the heart of this book. Ananthaswamy takes a crack at answering by looking at several of the ailments and mental phenomena that seem to steal or morph what we think of as the self.

While there are many distinct views on the self, the predominant view has always been the one guided by the way it feels. And it
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ananthaswamy's book looks at the nature of self and how it is identified by looking cases where individuals lose their sense of self. Using these cases like a dark mirror is a fascinating way to illuminate how the self comes into being.

"Metzinger argues that we should be paying attention to what it feels like to be suffering from Cotard's-what philosophers call the phenomenology of a disorder." 8

"To help us get closer to some answers, we can turn to insights of people suffering from various per
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BIID nonsense! 2 14 Aug 19, 2015 03:39PM  

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ANIL ANANTHASWAMY is former deputy news editor and current consultant for New Scientist. He is a guest editor at UC Santa Cruz’s renowned science-writing program and teaches an annual science journalism workshop at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India. He is a freelance feature editor for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science’s “Front Matter” and has written ...more

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