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Book Forum: Models of the Mind   |    
The Mind: Its Nature and Origin
Am J Psychiatry 2005;162:1397-1397. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.7.1397
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Omaha, Neb.

By Christiaan D. van der Velde, M.D. Amherst, N.Y., Prometheus Books, 2004, 242 pp., $28.00.

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Given the expansive title of this book, I expected to find a cryptic and complex tome of many hundreds of pages filled with diagrams, positron emission tomography scans, and the most modern three-dimensional images. As it turned out, I was partially correct. The Mind does seem cryptic and complex to me, but it runs under 250 smallish pages and fulfills the promise implied about the nature or origin of one’s mind.

I am willing to accept some responsibility for not fully grasping the merits of the book. Perhaps I am too narrowly focused in biologically oriented psychiatric medicine to appreciate this effort. However, some fault must lie with the author and editors for producing a book whose book jacket summary, a reflection of the contents, is so convoluted that it left me and a few colleagues puzzled.

The quest, we are told, is to demonstrate how cerebral activities become mental events. On this journey of 21 chapters organized within five parts we revisit Freud, Piaget, and many other revered psychologists and behavioral scientists; engrams; and Gestalt. We are treated to the history of dialectical concepts, beginning with Zeno of Elea in 464 BCE. We are offered dialectical interconnectedness and dialectical triads. We are awash with matrices and fusions as well as complex and simple mnemonics. Part 3, Structures of the Mind, has a chapter titled "Ego, Superego, Id," and the only other chapter is titled "The Neurophysiology of Dreaming."

The section on Brain, Mind and Body includes six chapters totaling 28 pages. The chapter on the "Mind-Body Problem" is less than four pages long and has three references, from 1950, 1980, and 1985 (by the author), and includes a figure (number 10) of the ubiquitous smiley face and sad face.

The section on Psychological and Clinical Implications covers personality formation, psychopathology, and psychotherapy in a brief 40 pages. Although it might fortify the previous chapters, as a clinician I found that it did not offer much to strengthen my practice or pearls to share with residents.

Pointing out what I see as flaws in this book does not necessarily mean I found no merit. I look at The Mind as primarily a relatively brief philosophical, psychological, and scientific exploration of concepts. For those wanting to ponder "the mind," memory, and cognition relative to a historical framework it may well be a very rewarding experience. For those looking for a more useful clinical or teaching tool for psychiatric medicine I do not think this would be a first-line choice.




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