Monday, October 15, 2012
Russian Dolls of the Mind
In a chapter titled "Russian Dolls" from his 1995 book Receptors, neurologist Richard M. Restak M. D. uses the clever metaphor of these famous dolls to describe the "nested complexity" of the interaction between the mind's "seven levels."
"At each of these levels -- molecules, synapses, neurons, networks, maps, systems, and the brain as a whole -- information coding and decoding reflect information from all the other levels."
Receptors was a first-rate one-dollar popular neuroscience read. I blazed through it and still enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately, many of the bold claims made about upcoming and promising psychopharmocology breakthoughs (made 17 years ago, in 1995) still haven't materialized. Poo!
Receptors by Richard M. Restak M. D.
What if there were a pill that could change you from an introvert to the exuberant extrovert you always wanted to be? A capsule to make you more assertive, creative, or intelligent? What is you could "design" your own brain? Who would you be? Only a few years ago such possibilities seemed the stuff of science fiction, but in today's laboratory remarkable new advances in brain research are making such transformations a reality. In Receptors, famed neuropsychiatrist Richard Restek leads us on an exhilarating--and sometimes disquieting--scientific adventure into this bold new frontier.
He shows us how break-through discoveries are enabling neuroscientists to decode the mysteries of the human brain, holding out the exciting possibility of relieving, and ultimately even curing, conditions such as memory loss, depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson's, and even Alzheimer's disease. He documents the likelihood that in the very near future, it will be possible to alter our own brains, to choose the personality we want. How we cope with such godlike power is one of the fascinating questions he poses in this challenging and thought-provoking book. From the levitating ointments of medieval "witches" to the magic mushrooms of southern Mexico, from the LSD of the psychedelic age to the latest discoveries of today's psychopharmacologists, Dr. Restak provides a vivid and lucid account of humanity's unceasing effort to understand and harness the powers of the mind--and the possibility that solutions to some of the brain's deepest mysteries may be close at hand.
From Publishers Weekly
Restak here gives new meaning to the term "designer drugs." A noted neurologist and author of The Brain and The Mind , he outlines advances in our understanding of the brain's chemical processes that, while holding great promise for the relief of mental illness, also suggest provocative possibilities for the refashioning of personality. Focusing on the role of neurotransmitters, which relay messages from neurons to receptors, he chronicles experiments and discoveries in the field of brain chemistry of the last half-century. Restak, who has long listened to Prozac and other mind-altering drugs, provides a lucid, balanced and helpful history of the steps leading us to this new frontier.
Although his informative book deals primarily with the receptors for neurotransmitters in the brain, Restak frequently makes the point that the brain functions and must be thought of as a whole. He lays clear groundwork for his technical subject with a discussion of the three levels of the brain and its fundamental physiology. Basic to his approach is the chemical relationship between many hallucinogenic plants and the neurotransmitters in the brain, and he makes his points lucidly, often through using helpful analogies. What with their work on the classification of narcotic and stimulating drugs, LSD, and lithium, such scientists as Louis Lewin, John Cade, and Albert Hofmann already appear as curious and imaginative human beings, but Restak shows how their specialty has been crucial to the study of neurotransmitters, as has been research (to which Restak devotes considerable space) into the two "most addictive" drugs--cocaine and amphetamines--for what it has shown investigators about the workings of the brain. Looking into the future, Restak sees more work along the lines that led to the characterization and localization of the receptor for marijuana. -- William Beatty