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Brain fiction, self-deception and the riddle of confabulation
  1. A Fotopoulou

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    Edited by William Hirstein. Published by Wiley, 2004, £22.95 (hardcover), pp 288. ISBN 0262083388.

    The striking neuropsychological symptom of confabulation represents a prototypical form of false remembering and as such has stimulated great interest among neurologists, psychiatrists, and neuropsychologists. Brain Fiction by William Hirstein is the first book to place confabulation at the centre of its attention. By doing so, Hirstein is faced with the challenge of presenting and examining the various discussions surrounding the definition, the subtypes, the neural, and cognitive basis of confabulation and crucially the relation between its various forms and manifestations. Brain Fiction, however, has taken up further challenges. By borrowing and integrating data and notions from both neuroscience and epistemology, Hirstein puts forward an original definition and model of confabulation, as a dynamic interplay of creative and “checking” mental processes. More generally, Hirstein chooses confabulation as a promising template for the formulation of an interdisciplinary dialogue and interchange of ideas between neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy. In addition, the book proposes to hold a place for confabulation in a continuum of behaviours, ranging from “normal” other, and self-deception attempts in everyday life to deficits of theory of mind, awareness, and symptoms of sociopathy.

    It should be evident from the above, that Brain Fiction is addressed to professionals of diverse fields and Hirstein has tried to accommodate the potential clefts in acquaintance with expert knowledge and technical terms. However, the specialised reader should keep in mind that the book does not offer an examination exhaustive in content or encyclopaedic in format. The book is of limited interest to clinicians. It mainly aims at disentangling confabulation from the strict boundaries of its hitherto neuroscientific examination and exposing it to direct philosophical enquiry. This is an endeavour that promises mutual interdisciplinary benefits. Yet the author, perhaps motivated by the existing lack of theoretical and descriptive consensus on the subject, also chooses to propose a new aetiological account of the phenomenon in neuroscientific terms. Inevitably, this analysis often entails smoothing of the hard edges of some conflicting neuroscientific findings, and partial coverage of some complex issues raised by confabulation, such as its implications for theories of consciousness, self-formation, and motivation. Such selectivity though has noteworthy benefits. The book introduces an unprecedented emphasis in the study of confabulation by placing the definition, taxonomy, and implications of the phenomenon into epistemological perspective. Thus, it sets the ground for fruitful neuro-philosophical discussions and it refreshes the way neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists view this and other related symptoms.

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