Monday, December 20, 2021

Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience, by Michael S. Gazzaniga (author), Johnny Heller (narrator)

HarperAudio, ISBN 9780062373410, February 2015

Michael S. Gazzaniga is a leading scientist in the field of cognitive neuroscience, having in fact helped to create the field as the study of the brain advanced. In this book, he discusses his life and his research. He did important, even critical, research on split brains (brains where the corpus callosum, the nerve bundle connecting the left and right sides of the brain) was severed--sometimes in accidents, but often intentionally, in cases where epileptic seizures were unmanageably severe and frequent. It was effective enough to be considered justified in very severe cases--especially as it seemed to have no obvious impact on normal functioning.

In fact it did have significant effects, but most early testing wasn't effective at identifying those effects. Gazzaniga was one of the leaders in developing those techniques, identifying the effects, and ultimately, developing a far more sophisticated understanding of how the human brain really works, both when it's intact, and when the corpus callosum is split.

His description of his research is informative, interesting, and often downright joyful. It's really fascinating. 

His accounts of his moves back and forth across the country, moving between east and west coast universities and research centers (he created several of those research centers) I have to say I found positively dizzying. In at least one case, he created a new research center, and left for the other coast after just three years. I might be completely wrong, but I do have the impression that this is not typical in academia.

We also learn something of his personal life, his two marriages and several children, his social life, his friendships with comedian Steve Allen, conservative pundit and founder of the National Review William F. Buckley, Jr., and others. Gazzaniga seems proud of having been a member of the "Animal House" fraternity at Dartmouth College, which at minimum tells me he's so much more social and uninhibited than I am that even now that he's 82, I'd probably run screaming in the other direction if I met him--but a lot more people would probably really enjoy meeting him.

All in all, a very interesting book, and the things I find off-putting are likely the very things that other people will find engaging.

I bought this audiobook.

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