Since antiquity, philosophers have speculated upon the workings of the human mind, as much as they have puzzled over the nature of the night sky. Today, as books like Marcus Chown's The Magic Furnace so eloquently demonstrate, we know much about the size and substance of the universe. But how much do we really know about the human brain?
In his previous, controversial work, The End of Science John Horgan argued that science had explained almost everything that it could explain about the world and that, in a universe so complex and various, there were bound to be phenomena that defied scientific scrutiny. (No-one, for example, would seriously seek a scientific explanation for anything so complex as a human being's life story but would turn rather to, say, biography).
The Undiscovered Mind applies the lessons of the earlier book to the sciences of the mind. There are many models of how we think, remember, perceive and emote. Many of them are mutually exclusive; none of them disprove any of the others. Horgan likens this state of affairs to science's precursor alchemy and claims that, with a phenomenon as complex andv arious as human thought, alchemical explanations are the best we'll ever get.
Horgan is good at fleshing out the social and political contexts of brain science and offers real ammunition to cynics. Alas, he enjoys himself too much, finding weakness and failure in the very debates, controversies and animosities that to many would suggest healthy progress in the field. This is a clever and provocative book; it is not altogether good-natured.--Simon Ings [via]