In life we seek explanations, to reassure ourselves that the world makes sense. If events happen randomly, and at any second the things around us, our sanity, our very existence could simply vanish into thin air, we would be frozen in place, too frightened to act.
Underneath the daily routine we create to let us live as if order underlies the nature of things, there is a suspicion that we are walking a tightrope without a net, and we wince as we read and hear of the random events which, out of the blue, seem to overtake people just like us everyday.
“Mistaken Identity” confronts our compulsion to make sense of the the world. Leslie Brothers contrasts the brain – a physical fact – with mind, an intangible, seemingly limitless concept. This book asks, can we possibly, in the early 21st century, use the facts we have learned about the brain to explain the mind? How do a few pounds of “wetware” yield thought, concepts, and actions which, themselves invisible and evanescent, can affect and destroy all that exists?
Brothers believes that we can do no more at the present time than describe what the brain does in physical terms, simply compiling more and more factual data. The rest, she says, is wistful dreaming and empty theory.
The author concludes that mind is a social construct: put another way, mind could not have evolved and developed in isolation. One wonders, idly, what would happen if only one human being existed on our planet. Would such an individual be truly said to have lost his or her mind? If communication creates mind, what of Helen Keller? How can a deaf, dumb, and blind person, whose brain centers for sight and sound were never “wired” in infancy, come to possess the emotional depth and power such individuals repeatedly demonstrate?