[ISEA2011] Panel: Paul Broks – Be­tween a thing and a thought: the neu­ropsy­chol­ogy of self­hood

Panel Statement

Panel: NeuroArts

Neu­ropsy­chol­ogy is com­ing of age. Tra­di­tional ‘le­sion stud­ies’ – the painstak­ing method of ob­serv­ing the ef­fects of lo­calised brain dam­age on be­hav­iour – have been aug­mented by brain imag­ing tech­nolo­gies al­low­ing di­rect ob­ser­va­tion of the liv­ing brain. We are now build­ing maps of the brain’s func­tional ar­chi­tec­ture that, in scope and de­tail, could scarcely have been imag­ined 50 years ago. And yet, it seems to me, some­thing fun­da­men­tal is miss­ing from the scene. Where is the ‘per­son’? Where is the ‘self’? How do the var­i­ous sys­tems and sub­sys­tems of men­tal­ity (per­cep­tion, mem­ory, emo­tion, etc.) col­lude in the con­struc­tion and main­te­nance of the con­scious, in­tro­spec­tive, uni­fied and con­tin­u­ous sense of in­di­vid­ual iden­tity that we take as the bedrock norm of human ex­pe­ri­ence? Until re­cently such ques­tions were sim­ply not on the sci­en­tific agenda. They are now, and as this cen­tury un­folds the neu­ropsy­chol­ogy of per­son­hood is going to stir up ques­tions of pro­found con­cern not merely for neu­ro­science but for so­ci­ety at large. In this pre­sen­ta­tion I offer my own, some­times per­sonal, re­flec­tions on the neu­ropsy­chol­ogy of self­hood from the per­spec­tive of a sci­en­tist-prac­ti­tioner with a back­ground in clin­i­cal neu­ropsy­chol­ogy, but one who also has lately spent as much time ex­plor­ing mem­ory and iden­tity through the­atre and film.

  • Paul Broks is a neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist based at the Uni­ver­sity of Ply­mouth. He gained recog­ni­tion as a writer with his first book, Into the Silent Land (At­lantic Books, 2003) which mixed neu­ro­log­i­cal case sto­ries, fic­tion and mem­oir in an ex­tended med­i­ta­tion on self­hood and the brain. A sec­ond book, The Laws of Magic, ex­plor­ing mem­ory and imag­i­na­tion, is forth­com­ing. Paul’s the­atre work in­cludes two plays, On Ego (Oberon Books, 2005) and On Emo­tion (Oberon Books, 2008) co-writ­ten with the writer/di­rec­tor Mick Gor­don for Soho The­atre, and he has re­cently com­pleted a new play com­mis­sion for the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany.  His film work in­cludes the writ­ing and nar­ra­tion of Mar­tino Un­strung, a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary about the jazz gui­tar vir­tu­oso, Pat Mar­tino (Dir. Ian Knox; Six­teen Films, 2008). He is cur­rently col­lab­o­rat­ing with the film­maker Hugh Hud­son on a doc­u­men­tary about brain in­jury. Paul is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to the cul­ture and cur­rent af­fairs mag­a­zine, Prospect.