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Reality CheckReview - Reality Check
What Your Mind Knows, but Isn't Telling You
by David L Weiner
Prometheus Books, 2005
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H.
Jan 9th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 2)

Reality Check shrilly sounds a clarion call for curiosity, humility, and open mindedness regarding the fathomless profundities of the human mind.  As envisioned by its author, David L. Weiner, an inveterate writer of psychology books, this attitudinal approach to studying murky mind-brain phenomena may illumine the path to greater intellectual enlightenment.  The luminous textual material radiates light in many directions.  But an intellectually sturdy connecting thread is the considerable sympathy Weiner evinces for a biologic-physical basis for emotions, feelings, anxieties, phobias, compulsions, and even spirituality.  This bias underpins the textual edifice strongly.

 Importantly, the toilsome chiseling of intellectual artisan Weiner is intended to sculpt a "reality check", in the sense of showing reality as it is being hewed continually by unfolding scientific investigation.  Those covetous of embracing a reality check wedded firmly to scientific fact, however discomfiting, should be enlivened by Weiner's relentlessly assiduous efforts to painstakingly crack open formidably tough shells shielding kernels of scientific knowledge and insight concerning the human mind.

 In an antechamber to the thirteen chapters comprising the main structural chamber of the book, Dr. Robert Hare (a Professor Emeritus of Psychology, at the University of British Columbia) prefaces the text with an expression of admiration and appreciation for Weiner's down to earth approach to deciphering some of the myriad mysteries of the human mind.  And indeed, Weiner's writing style exudes refreshing unpretentiousness, tinged even with a measure of self-deprecation.  The textual corpus is measured very well, stylistically, to fit closely lay readers.

Critics, metaphorically, may castigate Weiner as a somewhat ill mannered bull, stampeding through an academic shop replete with delicate treasures, in a rough manner showing suboptimal regard for academic genteelness.  Any perceived lack of academic formality accompanying Weiner's toils, however, should not be mistaken for a lack of seriousness of purpose.  Plainly, Weiner is unequivocally bent on sifting carefully through the challenging sands of mind-brain science, in diligent search of grains of insight and understanding.  Towards that end, academic baggage pretentiously cluttering the way to enhanced understanding of the human mind is cast aside unapologetically.

Research minded readers may be gladdened by "Notes", linked to the respective chapters, which adjoin the text.  These Notes identify a plethora of research materials germane to textual issues.  Further adjoining the text is a "Bibliography", which, in alphabetic fashion, additionally identifies research materials pertinent to mind-brain matters.

Textually, in Chapter One, the reader is introduced to Weiner's overarching conceptual belief that the human mind is biologic-physical in nature.  The concept of a "virtual reality" is unveiled in this chapter, as well.  As fleshed out by Weiner, every person has a unique virtual reality embodying the values, beliefs, and attitudes garnered over the course of a lifetime.  Weiner traverses considerable neuroscientific ground. A comparison of human brain neurons to transistors is interestingly undertaken in Chapter Two, whereas the interconnectedness of the amygdala, emotional control, and the successful executing of physical tasks (for example, the proper hitting of a ball, particularly in a stressful situation) engages the rapt attention of Chapter Three.

As Weiner clearly acknowledges, many of the scientific puzzles of the human mind remain unsolved by investigators.  In Chapter Five, for instance, Weiner expresses sympathy for the view that human emotional feelings are physical, and are part of the brain's biology.  But, concomitantly, Weiner explains that the neural circuitry for emotional feelings is understood only partially.  Weiner likewise believes that anxieties, compulsions, and phobias are basically physical problems that are controlled by the brain's neural circuitry.  This belief is advanced in Chapter Seven.  Certainly, Weiner's thoughtful book may serve potentially as a galvanizing sounding board for constructive debate focusing on contentious, unsettled issues impinging on the human mind.

Other subjects falling within the far extending ken, of Weiner, reach to:  the interminable expansiveness and inscrutability of the universe (probed in Chapter Eight); engrossing comment (in Chapter Nine) on enigmas enshrouding the passage of time; and animating discourse, in Chapter Ten, appertaining to DNA molecules, coding, and the Human Genome Project.  Weiner's far flung net, of attention, in Chapter Eleven, entraps the subject of genetics.  The prime focus of Weiner's discerning gaze, in Chapter Twelve, is on the purported primal urge of humans to increase their status, or what Weiner describes as the "status imperative".  In concluding Chapter Thirteen, center stage attention is given to the globally great multitude of religions and spiritual beliefs.  Consistent with the biologic-physical conceptual framework encasing the book, Weiner indicates sympathy for a biologic basis for spirituality.

Notwithstanding the vigorous efforts of Weiner to demystify it, the human mind remains enveloped by a thick aura of mystery.  Many of the musings of Weiner, however interesting, have yet to be forged in the fire of sustained academic study.  Moreover, from a scientific perspective, the ruminations of Weiner are rather rudimentary in nature.

Nevertheless the views of Weiner are certainly attention gathering and thought provoking, and may help spark further robust discussion relating to the complexities of the mind.  Psychologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists, biologists, geneticists, theologians, philosophers, and ethicists are among those who should be enthralled by Weiner's important contribution to the burgeoning literature of the human mind.

 

© 2007 Leo Uzych

 

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.


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