Sunday, November 18, 2007

Double Echo

As the Echo Maker moves into its second half, we are presented with the character of Weber. This character who is modeled on Oliver Sachs is an interesting turn in the novel. After reading about Karin’s perspective on her brother’s injury and her alarm and panic when he fails to recognize her, it is refreshing that Powers presents the medical take on Mark’s case. It is amusing to read the fictional portrayal of Sachs in Powers’ book after reading so many of Sachs’ case studies, but I think that Powers does a good job in staying true to the essence of Sachs. Powers describes him as “…a cross between Charles Darwin and Santa Clause…” (101). I couldn’t have described him better myself. Like Sachs, Weber is at ease with his patient, and Mark is able to trust him, even if he can’t trust the “imposters” around him.
When Dr. Hayes and Weber are reviewing Mark’s brain charts, it brought me back to our discussion in last week’s class. We were talking about how the emotional self is really connected to everything having to do with our functioning life. Powers’ writes: “Getting all associations for a face without that gut feeling of familiarity. Pushed to a choice, cortex has to defer to amygdala…’So it’s not what you think you feel that wins out, it’s what you feel you think’” (131). This is a very well articulated point—a point that is true with all human beings, not just those with Capgras syndrome.
The amygdala is an emotion site in the brain. Joseph Le Doux’s work on emotion was highly focused on activation in the amydala. He has mostly studied fear, but it is clear that many emotions also have neural correlates that focus on the amydala. The higher regions of the brain in the cortex, the frontal lobes are often called the executive part of the brain. In Capgras syndrome, the theory is that the emotional neural circuits are disconnected from the higher cognitive circuits and without communication between them, the patient suffers from a lack of emotion when he or she looks at a beloved family member or spouse. The inability to feel anything for that person creates the idea that he or she must be an imposter or double. Weber says in the novel, “I have always found it worthwhile to consider a delusion as both the attempt to make sense—as well as the result—of a deeply upsetting development” (132). Weber is talking about something which is called “confabulation” in neurology. Capgras’ is usually the result of right brain lesions. Confabulation is an explanation created by the language regions in the left hemisphere to explain what the patient is feeling. It isn’t lying. It’s an attempt to make sense of what a person feels when he looks at loved ones whom he recognizes but feels nothing for.

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