The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning

The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning

The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning

The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning

Excerpt

On the night of Thursday, May 8, 1997, my father had a stroke. I’d been repeatedly reassured that the stroke was “very minor.” Nevertheless, when I visited him in the hospital, I felt profoundly disturbed by what I witnessed. This sluggish, exhausted man in front of me looked like my father, but I knew, deep down, that he wasn’t.

There were subtle clues that betrayed this impostor. Some changes verged on the comical, such as his newfound obsession for Kit Kats—he would eat nothing else for days. Others were more disconcerting. These differences could generally be characterized as a reversion from a sharp, responsible man into a confused child. Even more bizarrely, his attitude toward me would radically alter depending on whether I sat on the right or left side of his bed. When I sat on his right, he would take an interest in me, and we’d have a semi-coherent conversation. When I went instead to his left, it was as though I wasn’t in the room. He simply wasn’t aware of my presence.

I found myself morbidly wishing that he’d suffered a mild heart attack instead of a stroke. Then, at least, my dad would still be alive, as my dad. As it was, if this situation persisted, a portion of my father would already have died, and every time he spoke, I would be reminded of that fragment of his identity that was lost.

Amid my sense of shock at this new person that wasn’t Dad, and my chestgripping anxiety that he would never fully recover, I couldn’t help examining his symptoms dispassionately. My father’s stroke had struck a few weeks before my university finals. I was studying philosophy and biological psychology, and consciousness was a hot topic in both fields. On the one hand, I was revising elegant philosophical arguments proposing that consciousness was . . .

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