This gem of a book struck me as one of the best examples of a scientist who is unafraid of stretching the boundaries of how to view the workings of our mind. How easily she glides between science and metaphor and yet remains solidly in the science camp as a rule!
Her discussion in chapter seven called, “Inner Space,” is particularly demonstrative of her talent for straddling the two worlds, and is one of my favorites in the book. Her marvelously inventive approach to describing how neurons, as vitally important as they are, work not alone, but rather by cooperating with other neurons, spurred by 90% of the brain’s cells called glia, whose astrocytes “unfurl long arms and reach right into synapses (spaces between neurons) altering events.”
Her metaphorical description of glia “that converse among themselves, listen to neurons, voice their own concerns, and ultimately influence what neurons say,” strikes me as particularly insightful, except that she stops short of suggesting what might be “influencing” the glial cells. While alluding to “the brain’s social fabric,” she says nothing about the social context within which that brain weaves that fabric, nor does she attempt to offer what might be “inspiring” those glial cells.
I believe it is an important component of any attempt to define or describe human consciousness to at least examine the delicate balance between science and the mystery of what might be behind all the science. There is a distinction between what makes the brain work and what there is about cognitive creatures whose brains work this way that results in the subjective experience of the world.
Our ability to contemplate what could be, to venture within ourselves, to travel to distant locations in our minds, to imagine and to create; to mentally project ourselves outward both in time and space, and to experience the full range of possibility, all cry out for an explanation that science alone has not, as yet, been able to satisfactorily provide. Our advancing cognitive abilities, mirrored in our advancing technological innovation in our investigations into the human brain itself, are enhancing our access to a fuller and far richer experience of consciousness as well.
It is becoming clearer, that with all of our efforts, both scientific and philosophic, an expansion of consciousness and understanding the full range of its capacities and its source, is one of the most important undertakings of this and future generations.
2 thoughts on “An Alchemy of Mind”
I have also read this book and agree that it contains many insightful reflections on how the neurons are supported by the glial cells. Thanks for this interesting review.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. The notion that glial cells not only support neuronal functioning, but also have their own communication network is the subject of another book, “The Other Brain,” by R. Douglas Fields, which I hope to be reviewing shortly. Diane Ackerman is a personal favorite but there are many interesting titles dealing with the subject. Hope to hear from you again.