The Man Who Wasn't There Book Summary - The Man Who Wasn't There Book explained in key points

The Man Who Wasn't There summary

Anil Ananthaswamy

Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self

4.2 (21 ratings)
15 mins

Brief summary

'The Man Who Wasn't There' by Anil Ananthaswamy explores the fascinating science behind the way our brains perceive our bodies and the impact this has on our sense of self, consciousness and mental health.

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    The Man Who Wasn't There
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    Studying people who feel like the walking dead teaches us how the brain constructs our fundamental sense of self.

    Who are you? Most of us consider the self – the subject, the "I" – as an unchanging part of who we are. We feel an attachment to this self, as well as the body it inhabits, and have no concern as to whether we are really in control of our bodies or actions; we feel that we are.

    This sense of self is the result of our brain’s elaborate work. But what if your brain fails to provide you with a proper sense of self? And what if, as a consequence, you come to the conclusion that you’re actually dead?

    As bizarre as it sounds, individuals who suffer from Cotard's syndrome are truly, unshakeably convinced that they’re dead.

    Neurologist Adam Zeman reported a particularly interesting case of Cotard’s syndrome. Graham, a middle-aged patient at a psychiatric hospital, claimed that he was brain-dead. After a divorce and a failed suicide attempt, Graham suffered from severe depression and his emotions had lost all vividness. His conclusion: he must be dead. He also claimed to have lost the need to sleep, eat or drink – although he continued doing all these things – and he even stopped brushing his teeth.

    When he was informed that he was, in fact, still living, he refused to believe it.

    Certain regions of the brain are vital for our sense of self. In the brains of people with Cotard’s syndrome, some of these regions are damaged or misfire, thus disrupting fundamental elements of a person’s sense of self, such as the feeling of being alive.

    Physicians scanned Graham’s brain to see what was going on. They discovered that his frontoparietal network, an area of the brain that is involved with conscious awareness, was hardly showing any metabolic activity.

    The network concerned with awareness of internal activities (such as emotions) was especially affected, causing him to lose awareness of his emotions and physical needs. Detached from this awareness, he concluded that he was dead.

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    What is The Man Who Wasn't There about?

    The Man Who Wasn’t There (2015) explores the mechanisms that form our fundamental sense of self, and shows what happens when things go awry. By examining the surprising effects of disorders like schizophrenia, depersonalization and autism, the book shows just how flimsy the human sense of self can be.

    The Man Who Wasn't There Review

    The Man Who Wasn't There (2015) takes readers on a captivating journey into the mysteries of human consciousness and self-identity. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It explores the intriguing realm of neuroscience, shedding light on the intricate workings of the brain and the fascinating variations in human perception.
    • Ananthaswamy's insightful interviews with individuals who have experienced existential crises and altered states of consciousness provide a unique perspective on the nature of self.
    • The book delves into the philosophical and existential implications of these scientific discoveries, offering thought-provoking insights that challenge our fundamental notions of reality and identity.

    Best quote from The Man Who Wasn't There

    If I try to seize this self of which I feel sure . . . it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers. - Albert Camus

    —Anil Ananthaswamy
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    Who should read The Man Who Wasn't There?

    • People intrigued by the human sense of self
    • Students of neurology, psychology and philosophy
    • Anyone interested in learning about bizarre neurological disorders

    About the Author

    Anil Ananthaswamy is a science writer and author of the highly acclaimed book The Edge of Physics. He is also a consultant for New Scientist in London, where he once worked as deputy news editor.

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    The Man Who Wasn't There FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Man Who Wasn't There?

    The main message of The Man Who Wasn't There is the exploration of the mysteries of human consciousness.

    How long does it take to read The Man Who Wasn't There?

    The reading time for The Man Who Wasn't There varies depending on the reader, but the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Man Who Wasn't There a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Man Who Wasn't There is a thought-provoking book that delves into the complexities of the human mind. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of The Man Who Wasn't There?

    The author of The Man Who Wasn't There is Anil Ananthaswamy.