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A groundbreaking tour of the human mind that illuminates the biological nature of our inner worlds and emotions, through gripping, moving—and, at times, harrowing—clinical stories
“Poetic, mind-stretching, and through it all, deeply human.”—Daniel Levitin, New York Times bestselling author of The Organized Mind
Karl Deisseroth has spent his life pursuing truths about the human mind, both as a renowned clinical psychiatrist and as a researcher creating and developing the revolutionary field of optogenetics, which uses light to help decipher the brain’s workings. In Projections, he combines his knowledge of the brain’s inner circuitry with a deep empathy for his patients to examine what mental illness reveals about the human mind and the origin of human feelings—how the broken can illuminate the unbroken.
Through cutting-edge research and gripping case studies from Deisseroth’s own patients, Projections tells a larger story about the material origins of human emotion, bridging the gap between the ancient circuits of our brain and the poignant moments of suffering in our daily lives. The stories of Deisseroth’s patients are rich with humanity and shine an unprecedented light on the self—and the ways in which it can break down. A young woman with an eating disorder reveals how the mind can rebel against the brain’s most primitive drives of hunger and thirst; an older man, smothered into silence by depression and dementia, shows how humans evolved to feel not only joy but also its absence; and a lonely Uighur woman far from her homeland teaches both the importance—and challenges—of deep social bonds.
Illuminating, literary, and essential, Projections is a revelatory, immensely powerful work. It transforms our understanding not only of the brain but of ourselves as social beings—giving vivid illustrations through science and resonant human stories of our yearning for connection and meaning.
About the Author
Karl Deisseroth is a professor of bioengineering and psychiatry at Stanford University. The winner of the Kyoto Prize and the Heineken Prize, Deisseroth has five children and lives near Stanford University, where he teaches and directs Stanford’s undergraduate degree in bioengineering and treats patients with mood disorders and autism.
“Because of his experiences as a physician and researcher, Dr. Deisseroth recognizes the limitations of science and medicine and the transcendent value of elemental human connection. . . . In life’s most difficult moments, it might be everything.”—The Wall Street Journal
“[A] scintillating and moving analysis of the human brain and emotions . . . A great read.”—Nature
“[Karl Deisseroth’s] imaginative narrative flows effortlessly. . . . There is a first love of reading and writing and hints of a literary imagination that draws on James Joyce and Toni Morrison. . . . His narratives are always sensitive. . . . An admixture of fact and fiction, reality and imagination, damage and desire.”—Science
“Karl Deisseroth is already known around the world as a groundbreaking scientist who has pioneered dazzling new techniques for investigating the brain. In this enthralling masterpiece of a book, he demonstrates that he is also a perceptive psychiatrist, as well as a spellbinding writer who beautifully connects the inner feelings within all human beings to deep insights from modern psychiatry and neuroscience.”—Robert Lefkowitz, Nobel Laureate
“Karl Deisseroth intertwines neuroscience and human stories in a way that is altogether new: technical, lyrical, and deeply compassionate all at once.This is a crucial book for anyone who loves science, anyone who loves someone who is suffering from a disorder of the brain, or anyone who, like so many of us, loves both.”—Lucy Kalanithi
“Projections asks probing questions about some of our most fundamental human traits to shed light on the origins of our emotions. Why, for instance, do we shed tears? How did this show of weakness survive millennia of evolution? Deisseroth writes of heartbreaking and desperate medical cases with a doctor’s knowledge and a novelist’s skill for narrative. I was fascinated, and could not put this book down.”—May-Britt Moser, Nobel Laureate
“We are living during a revolution in our understanding of the human brain, and Karl Deisseroth has been at the forefront of these advances. This magisterial work, Projections, shows that not only is he one of our leading scientists, but also a gifted writer and storyteller. With precise yet luminous prose, he merges stories of cutting-edge neuroscience with a deep reverence for his patients’ humanity.”—Neil Shubin, author of Some Assembly Required
“Unique and utterly riveting . . . This is a masterpiece written for each and every one of us.”—Patricia Churchland, author of Conscience
“I’ve known Karl as a colleague, a scientist whose discoveries in the lab have been breathtaking and revolutionary. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised to discover he’s also a stunning writer . . . Projections is a tour de force.”—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
“An engaging, accessible blend of psychology and science, which sets itself apart with Deisseroth’s lyrical writing and the empathy of his storytelling.”—Library Journal (starred review)