The book is thought-provoking, and Sax explains well the science behind his assertions. His anecdotes are generally instructive, although some are a little too thin to support his points. Sax ends by offering several compelling arguments in support of same-sex education, such as analyses that find girls are more likely to study physics and boys are more likely to study literature in single-sex schools. But whether or not you agree with Sax, his volume is a worthy read for those who care about how best to prepare children for the challenges they face on the path to adulthood. --Aimee Cunningham
The New Brain Sciences: Perils and Prospects
edited by Dai Rees and Steven Rose. Cambridge University Press, 2004
What are the legal, ethical and moral implications of research in "the new brain sciences"? Rees and Rose, two distinguished British academics, invited the contributors to this collection of essays to ask hard questions about these subjects. Their answers will make you stop and think.
You might hope, for example, that decades of progress in psychiatry and psychology would be helping courts assess guilt, innocence and appropriate punishments. But contributor Stephen Sedley, a British judge who spent six years presiding over homicide cases, finds experts to be of little value. He admires the jury system because "of the rapidity with which twelve lay people were generally able to grasp and apply to a live problem before them principles of law." As for the testimony of psychiatrists, however, he says that he and the jury are typically left "peering into a very deep pool indeed with very little help about what was to be found there."
Perhaps the most visible of the new brain sciences is psychopharmacology, which has brought us drugs now taken by millions of people every day. John Cornwell, a historian of science at the University of Cambridge, writes from a courtroom in Louisville, Ky., describing a jury faced with "Prozac on trial." Weeks of neuroscientists' testimony left them baffled when they had to decide the case of a workplace killer who was on the antidepressant. But it is the elementary schoolroom, not the courtroom, that is the scene of today's largest-scale experiment in psychopharmacology. Over 2 percent of American schoolchildren now receive medication for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, writes Paul Cooper, a teacher and psychologist. "Medication should not be the default mode," he notes, yet increasingly it is, and in many cases, the drug serves to "treat" children who merely "experience difficulty conforming to the kinds of behavioral expectations that are common in schools."
Yet these thorny issues pale next to vexing medical issues that the new brain research may raise. Readers are reminded that a neurologist won a Nobel Prize in 1949 for pioneering the lobotomy and that between the 1940s and 1960s surgeons cavalierly severed critical brain tissue in thousands of patients. Yadin Dudai, an Israeli neurobiologist, decries what he calls a new "lobotomy attitude" in neuroscience today, with researchers working toward "genetic manipulations, brain transplantations, even neurosilicon hybrids." He counsels "humbleness and patience" in view of how little we yet understand. --Jonathan Beard
Wreckage of Psychoanalysis
13 Dreams Freud Never Had: The New Mind Science
by J. Allan Hobson. Pi Press, 2005
"One Saturday morning," Hobson writes, "I had two incredible dreams, in which I was kissing." Hobson, a psychiatrist and neurophysiologist who has researched sleeping and dreaming at Harvard University for decades, goes on to describe a disembodied mouth beckoning him, "wide open in a most lascivious fashion." This image, he reminds readers, refers to what Sigmund Freud would have called the dream's manifest (versus latent) content. And yet Hobson uses this personal remembrance, like many in his latest book, 13 Dreams Freud Never Had, to explain how sequences of "regional brain activation" can account for a dream's quasi-delusional, almost psychotic qualities--without resorting to psychoanalytic interpretations.