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Paul Broks: The Neuropsychology of Pat Martino

By Published: November 5, 2008
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Broks on Broks

AAJ: What were some of your impressions and comparisons of Philadelphia, New York City and London as urban environments as you were making the film?

PB: My work has brought me to New York on a number of occasions over the years and I've always been inspired by the place. I grew up with the New York of the movies, a place firmly established in the geography of my imagination and the reality doesn't disappoint. I hadn't previously been to Philadelphia. I was born and raised in the sprawling industrial conurbation of the West Midlands of England and in some ways, Philadelphia reminded me of our own great industrial cities. There is an earthiness and an edge to the place and, by the same token, an authenticity. I hadn't quite anticipated the atmosphere of the area of South Philly where Pat lives—the row houses and the corner stores and bars. That really did have a northern European feel to it, unexpectedly like the kind of place I was brought up. London? Like New York City, another city of the imagination that doesn't disappoint.

AAJ: How would you compare and contrast your own interests as a neuroscientist with those of Oliver Sacks?

PB: We share similar interests to the extent that we both write about neurological disorder and are drawn to unusual, striking cases. Of course, I followed his lead on that, as he had followed the pioneering Russian neuropsychologist, A. R. Luria. But there are differences in the way Sacks and I write about these things. My writing style veers more to the quasi-fictional; as well as writing about real cases, I sometimes make excursions into speculative fiction. Sacks writes inspiringly about human survival. My vision is darker, though I hope with shafts of illumination and inspiration.

Oliver Sacks is a neurologist and I'm a neuropsychologist by training, so we have taken rather different career paths in terms of clinical work. I've also spent time in basic research posts, including in the pharmaceutical industry. We share similar interests to the extent that we both write about neurological disorder and are drawn to unusual, striking cases.

AAJ: In the film, you become self-admittedly anxious when Martino asked you if you ever saw your own brain scan. What was triggered for you?

PB: First, it just hit me that this was a very unusual situation, like giving a clinical consultation but in front of the camera. I felt conflicted because I would have preferred to discuss Pat's MRI in private, yet here we were by mutual consent making a film and it was important for the film that we captured the moment on camera. And then into this unusual situation Pat flings a perfectly reasonable, but unexpected, question.

One that I would have welcomed in the privacy of the consulting room and perhaps used as an opportunity to talk about different personal reactions to brain imaging, but which now put me under the spotlight. The answer I gave was true. I have never been that much involved with brain imaging for research and have never sought out opportunities to be scanned, in common with most people who do this sort of work. Again, honestly, this is for no particular reason, though scans are still relatively expensive and researchers have budgets to watch so are not inclined to do such things purely for fun. Maybe if Pat agrees to take part in some further brain imaging for us I'll take my turn in the scanner and give him a picture of my brain to hang on his wall.

AAJ: Pat is a very spiritual person. By contrast, you are a neuroscientist and thus are basically materialistic in your work in terms of linking behavior and mentation to causes or correlates in the brain. What, if any, is the place of spirituality in your understanding of the personality and life itself?

align=center>Pat Martino / Ayako Martino / Paul Broks

PB: Spirituality and materialism are not mutually exclusive. I consider myself a spiritual person too—the spiritual intangibles of love, awe, inspiration, beauty, mystery and elevation are as important to me as to anyone else. I'm a materialist—"naturalist" is better—in the sense that I just don't believe in the spooky stuff of supernaturalism.

AAJ: Now that you've made a film, and in addition to your many other accomplishments, what do you see as your career path from here on in?

I still teach and have some involvement in clinical work but my aim now is to devote more time to writing. There's plenty to keep me busy. I'm working on a second book entitled The Laws of Magic, which explores imagination, memory and identity, and I've just been commissioned to write a regular column for the London Times. I also have a new play opening in London later this year, On Emotion, co-written with the brilliant director Mick Gordon. In addition, one hopes there might arise opportunities to develop Pat's story in other ways. Who knows?

Photo Credits

Photos and Stills from Martino Unstrung courtesy of Ian Knox and Sixteen Films

Visit the movie website for Martino Unstrung here and watch the film trailer here.

1. Martino Reflects on Martino Unstrung 2. Filming Pat Martino's World
3. The Neuropsychology of Pat Martino 4. Review of Martino Unstrung

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