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June 2, 1999

NeurohistoryThe Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image

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Copyright 1999 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.1999American Medical Association


by Leonard Shlain, 464 pp, with illus, $24.95, ISBN 0-670-87883-9, New York, NY, Viking, 1998.

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JAMA. 1999;281(21):2053. doi:10.1001/jama.281.21.2053-JBK0602-5-1

The author of this book, an associate professor of vascular surgery, is to be congratulated on his readable, detailed, and scholarly review of the history of the alphabet in relation to much of human social development.

In his thesis he argues that, with the development of the alphabet, human thinking has become more logical and scientific with, sadly, associated antifemale behavior. He explains that writing and reading are left brain functions, unlike emotions and intuition, which are regulated by the right side. Indeed, there have been fascinating observations on patients with lesions of the corpus callosum, illustrating some interesting differences of right and left brain function. For example, a patient in whom the corpus callosum was severed could read the word "table" with his left eye closed but could not point one out, whereas the opposite occurred when he solely used the other eye.

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