Head Case: How I Almost Lost My Mind Trying to Understand My Brain
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When journalist Dennis Cass was nineteen years old his stepfather, Bill, suffered from a psychotic break. Cass tried to commit him to a mental institution only to watch Bill escape from a cab en route to a Harlem hospital and run raving down the streets of Manhattan. Some fifteen years later, a bout of writer's block turned Cass's thoughts toward the brain.
A complete stranger to science, Cass immersed himself in the world of neuroscience, subjecting himself to brain scans, psychological tests, and scientific conferences, as he attempted to gain a better understanding of ADHD, anxiety, stress, motivation and reward, and consciousness. Then things got a little weird. What began as a more clinical effort to understand himself soon became a personal and emotional journey into the fragile, mysterious workings of the mind and the self.
Head Case is a charming, hilarious, and at times harrowing memoir of scientific experimentation. It's a story of science and society, of fathers and sons, and of how the past lives on in the present. Along the way the book asks timeless questions: What do we know about ourselves? What can we know about ourselves? And how much self-knowledge can a single person handle?
department at Columbia University. One of Metcalfe’s interests involves metacognition, which is how people think about how they think. While seated at a computer in Metcalfe’s warren-like lab, I was given Spanish vocabulary words to study. A Spanish word would pop up on the screen accompanied by its English translation. I had as much time as I wanted to study it. Then, a quiz. After the quiz I was given the words I got wrong and asked to choose which ones I thought I needed to study again for the
maintenance worker, turned his chair around and gave us his back. But these kids, these terrific kids whom I only wanted to take care of and make happy, kept on writing. I couldn’t wait to see their data. I had promised lunch and I intended to deliver. At the food court I passed out a ten-dollar bill to each subject. Research Subject MOA1 smirked at me again, then headed off with a few others to the Panda Garden. I went to the A&W Root Beer stand, navigating my way through more parents and
My vision closed down, my body was in spasms. I could taste the cortisol working off my tongue. The ice was rattling around the metal bowl, and the freezing of my arm had me doing a dance that involved gripping the rim of the kitchen sink. I once read a story about how the meat from stressed-out pigs tastes bad, the cortisol causing a breakdown at the cellular level. I experienced the truth of that study firsthand. I had definitely become one unsavory piece of pork. Then I went back into my
then at each other. It was almost as if whatever was happening was simply between us. She went back to bed. Once she was gone, Bill and I started in again, him wanting to go for a walk, me trying to restrain him. He pushed toward me, reaching for the doorknob, backing me up against the door. I was amazed at his willfulness, and at my own insistence that he stay put. I started laughing; this had to be a joke. Ever since I was five years old I had wanted Bill to leave us, to walk out on our family
physical makeup suggests their purpose, the brain gives no indication as to its function. The heart looks like a pump, the lung like a bag for air, kidney meat looks like a filter. The only thing this brain looked like was a brain. It could be anything (paperweight, sponge), and it could be made of anything (ground-up breath mints, sugar cookie dough). In the second century, one of the brain’s first anatomists, a Greek physician named Galen, thought the brain was made of sperm. Maybe there was