LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

A Day in the Life of the Brain: The Neuroscience of Consciousness from Dawn Till Dusk


by Susan Greenfield.

A Day in the Life of the Brain takes the reader through a typical day: from waking up – that moment when we regain consciousness (and what is consciousness, anyway?) – to going back to sleep and dreaming. During the day, we visit the very many brain processes generated by our day-to-day experiences.

The main theme of the book seems to be the definition of consciousness and how to pinpoint what actually causes it, neurologically speaking. To do this, Greenfield considers a very wide range of subjects, including sensory input, environment, boredom, dreaming, the perception of time, depression, childhood/teenage years, dementia, music, and exercise. 

Written by an academic, presumably with a popular readership in mind, Greenfield is clearly passionate (if not obsessive), and has done her best to make the subject accessible. That said, she loves long sentences: “The succession of different mental states you have been through can now be expressed bilingually – with the terminology of objective physiology and the simultaneous corresponding language of subjective phenomenology.” And this (never-ending) style made for a very dense read. Despite having some educational background in physiology, I was relieved to reach the end.

The narrative is written as though the reader is a male office worker, with a depressed wife, a grumpy teenage son, and a demented mother-in-law. I found this personification (not to mention the stereotyping) unnecessary and unhelpful. 

I found it odd there was no mention of autism (other than in a brief endnote), which has massive implications for neurological assemblies, but I guess that’s just not within Greenfield’s remit.


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