Is This a Piece of Your Brain?

I’ve been reading a book about neurosurgery.  If this sounds unlikely it’s because this is not a textbook but the autobiographical account of a ‘Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind‘.  I borrowed it because I wondered whether it was in any way similar to the way in which I lost mine a few years back.  Turns out it wasn’t really, but still this is a gripping account of what brain tumours can do to your thought-processes, written by one uniquely placed to analyse them.  And yet, as she points out, the tumours affect the very part of the brain which would notice that you’ve been affected:

‘Paradoxically, I need my frontal cortex to understand that mine has gone missing.’ (p.80)

Her symptoms mimic those of Fronto-Temporal Dementia but they are not at all similar to mine.  I knew I was lost; that’s what made it so frightening.  In a city where I’d lived for thirty years it was as though all my maps had been wiped clean but I knew they ought to be there.

The book (I haven’t finished it yet) gives a good insight into dementia and schizophrenia (though she has neither) and why people with these diseases may lose all empathy and behave in the most callous ways.  It also explains non-compliance in taking medication, because often the patient doesn’t accept that there’s anything wrong.

This begs a rather large question: where does empathy come from?  Are people without empathy – psychopaths rather than schizophrenics – born with part of the brain damaged?  Is there an organic cause to these things?  Or is the brain merely a symptom of a cause which lies elsewhere?

I think we should be told.

Sanity, as so often, lies in the garden.  It’s been raining the last couple of days, (thankfully; it’s been a dry spring so far) but I can’t wait to get out there and transplant all my seedlings.  My comfrey seeds have come too, and I’m looking forward to a humongous crop of organic fertiliser: in the meantime I’ve been weeding, pulling up tiny thistles and dandelions and of course the inevitable bindweed (convolvulus ubiquitus) a plant with no empathy at all.

And since it’s May 4th here, to save you from any Star Wars references, is one of my favourite Al Stewart tracks.

Kirk out

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