Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Era of the Genome

Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Era of the Genome

Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Era of the Genome

Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Era of the Genome

Synopsis

Millions of people have listened to John H. Lienhard's radio program "The Engines of Our Ingenuity." In this fascinating book, Lienhard gathers his reflections on the nature of technology, culture, and human inventiveness. The book brims with insightful observations. Lienhard writes that the history of technology is a history of us--we are the machines we create. Thus farming dramatically changed the rhythms of human life and redirected history. War seldom fuels invention--radar, jets, and the digital computer all emerged before World War II began. And the medieval Church was a driving force behind the growth of Western technology--Cistercian monasteries were virtual factories, whose water wheels cut wood, forged iron, and crushed olives. Lienhard illustrates his themes through inventors, mathematicians, and engineers--with stories of the canoe, the DC-3, the Hoover Dam, the diode, and the sewing machine. We gain new insight as to who we are, through the familiar machines and technologies that are central to our lives.

Excerpt

In the early 1980s I wrote a book, The Broken Brain: the Biological Revolution in Psychiatry. It described a major paradigm shift that was occurring in American psychiatry: the movement from a psychodynamic model to a biomedical and neurobiological model. It was written for laypeople, especially those who suffer from mental illnesses and their families, to help them understand how the brain works and how it becomes “broken” in mental illnesses. I also wanted to reduce the stigma associated with mental illnesses by making it clear that they are brain diseases that cause enormous human suffering. I wanted people to understand that the human sufferers should be accorded the same compassion and respect that we accord people with other illnesses such as cancer or diabetes. The Broken Brain was generally a success. It is still in print and is still selling, perhaps because its prediction of a paradigm shift turned out to be true and perhaps because its social message was so important.

As time passed, the scientific basis of modern psychiatry continued to advance. By the end of the final decade of the last century, known as the Decade of the Brain, so much had happened that it was time to write a new and different book to describe our growing knowledge about causes and treatments of mental illnesses in the twenty-first century. Hence Brave New Brain.

We now have a wealth of powerful new technologies that illuminate the causes and mechanisms of mental illnesses on many different levels. These include the tools of molecular genetics and molecular biology, which are being used to map the genome and identify the genetic basis of many different kinds of illnesses, including those of the mind and brain. in addition, neuroimaging techniques now permit us to visualize and measure the living brain. Psychiatrists may not be able to read minds, as many people used to believe, but they can watch the mind think and feel by using the tools of neuroimaging.The terrain of the brain is being mapped in parallel with the mapping of the genome.The convergence of these two domains of knowledge is one of the most exciting things that is happening in medicine and mental health at the moment.Their conver-

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