Mind Fields. Reflections on the Science of Mind and Brain

Written by M. Jeeves Reviewed By Alexander R. Tindall

This book can be recommended to anyone wishing to become acquainted with current research relating to the brain and its functions. It reviews in seven chapters all the major aspects of the interaction of the mind, consciousness and the neural mechanisms of the brain, without pretending that all the answers are known at present. This is an important matter: much is yet not understood even about fundamental neural physiology, let alone how the brain as a whole works. Professor Jeeves’s book does not attempt to gloss over the many problems which remain.

The approach of the physiologist who studies how neurons work, what influences them and how they affect other neurons is a bottom-up approach; the psychologist looks at behaviours and tries to understand these in terms of the functions of the various subdivisions of the brain: a top-down approach. There is a third way: that of cognitive neuroscientists, who attempt to bring together the work of the physiologist and the psychologist into a more holistic view of the brain and mind problem. As yet, much of the work here is done by modelling possible modes of brain function, and while a great deal has already been learnt about which parts of the brain are involved in which functions, including attention and memory, this is probably the most promising area of research at the present time.

In a wise chapter, the old problem of the relationship between nature and nurture is discussed with respect to the brain and its workings. This is followed by chapters on a more philosophical level concerned with the scientific method and its limitations, the problems of consciousness and freedom of choice and how our experiences of these can be integrated into the scientific knowledge so far attained. As the author remarks, ‘There are no easy answers’.

Finally, there is a discussion about the spiritual aspect of humankind, in particular the Christian understanding of human spirituality. This chapter is different from the others. Here the author allows himself to reflect on his own convictions about the spiritual dimension of our being and he brings out the tensions which must exist at present between what is known to science and religious beliefs.

The chapters on the philosophical side are perhaps the weakest (because of limitations of space?); also, a mention of the interactions between the neural, endocrinological and immunological systems of the body could have been included with advantage. It is of great merit that the author confines his own opinions to the last chapter and does not try to stress the results of present-day research to suit his own religious convictions.

This book is to be highly recommended. It is illustrated by appropriate diagrams and photographs and can be understood by the intelligent layperson as well as those more acquainted with the subject matter. It is an honest attempt to set out what our understanding of neural mechanisms explains, what it does not explain and what we can hope to come to understand in the future.

Alexander R. Tindall

Tarbert, Argyll, Scotland