A User's Guide to the Brain : Perception, Attention, and the Four Theatres of the Brain
For the first time ever, discoveries in our under- standing of the brain are changing anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology--indeed, the brain itself may become a catalyst for transforming the very nature of these inquiries. In A User's Guide to the Brain, Dr. John Ratey, best-selling co-author of Driven to Distraction, explains in lucid detail and with perfect clarity the basic structure and chemistry of the brain: how its systems shape our perceptions, emotions, actions, and reactions; how possession of this knowledge can enable us to more fully understand and improve our lives; and how the brain responds to the guidance of its user. He draws on examples from his own practice, from research, and from everyday life to illuminate aspects of the brain's functioning, among them prenatal and early childhood development; the perceptual systems; the processes of consciousness, memory, emotion, and language; and the social brain. As the best means for explaining the dynamic interactions of the brain, Ratey offers as a metaphor the four "theaters" of exploration: 1) the act of perception; 2) the filters of attention, consciousness, and cognition; 3) the array of options employed by the brain--memory, emotion, language, movement--to transform information into function; and 4) behavior and identity.
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January 08, 2002
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Excerpt from A User's Guide to the Brain by John J. Ratey
She was doing it again. That young woman who periodically showed up dressed in a Western shirt and kerchief was standing in front of the automatic sliding doors at the Safeway supermarket. She'd look intently straight ahead, take five abrupt steps toward the doors, and try to restrain herself from walking through until they had fully opened. Sometimes she couldn't stop herself and nearly slammed right into the glass. Other times she'd wait long enough and then lunge through. Regardless, she'd back out and do it again. And again. Regular shoppers at the Phoenix, Arizona, store would hesitate beside her, then scurry past, eyeing her while trying not to stare. Once inside they'd shake their heads and make the usual comments: "Must be insane." They didn't know that Temple Grandin would go on to earn a doctorate in animal sciences and become an internationally recognized expert in animal handling. Or that she was autistic.
Temple had a normal birth, but by the time she was six months old she'd stiffen at her mother's touch and claw to free herself from her mother's hug. Soon she could not stand the feeling of other skin touching hers. A ringing telephone and a car driving by her house while a conversation was going on inside caused such severe confusion and hurt in the toddler's ears that she would tantrum, hitting whoever was within reach.
When she was three the doctors said that Temple had "brain damage." Her parents hired a stern governess, who structured the child's day around physical exercise and repetitive play such as "marching band." Occasionally the routine allowed Temple to focus on what she was doing, even speak. She taught herself to escape the stimuli around her, which caused pain in her overly sensitive nervous system, by daydreaming in pictures of places far away. By the time she reached high school she had made great progress. She could handle some of the academic subjects, and sometimes she could control her hypersensitive reactions to the chaos around her, primarily by shutting down to reduce the constant anxiety and fear. This made the other kids regard her as cold and aloof. She grew agonizingly lonely and would often tantrum or engage in pranks to combat her feelings of rejection. The school expelled her.
When she was sixteen Temple's parents sent her to an aunt's cattle ranch in Arizona. The rigid daily schedule of physical work helped her focus. She became fixated on the cattle chute, a large machine with two big metal plates that would squeeze a cow's sides. The high pressure apparently relaxed the animals, calming them enough for a vet to examine them. She visualized a squeeze machine for herself to give her the tactile stimulation she craved but couldn't get from human contact because the stimulation from physical closeness to another person was too intense, like a tidal wave engulfing her.
By this time Temple and her doctors had realized that she had a photographic memory. She was an autistic savant. When she returned to a special school for gifted children with emotional difficulties--the only school option left--her advisors allowed her to build a human squeeze machine. The project got her hooked on learning mechanical engineering and mathematics and on problem-solving, and she excelled at them all. She built a prototype, and would climb into it and use a lever to control the degree and duration of the pressure on her body. Afterward, she would feel relieved, more empathic, and more in touch with feelings of love and caring, even more tolerant of human touch. She started controlled experiments with the device and became skilled in research and lab techniques--which provided the impetus to apply to college.