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There was the following sentence in the article of Time magazine, titled “Your brain in a shootout: Guns, fear and flawed instincts” dealing with the brain’s function in a life-or-death situation. As Jim Glennon, a lieutenant in the Chicago Police, found himself placed in, one autumn day in 2004 when he was assaulted by a gun-shooter:- http://swampland.time.com/2013/01/16/your-brain-in-a-shootout-guns-fear-and-flawed-instincts/

“As happens for most people in life-or-death situations, his brain began to manipulate his perception of time, slowing down the motion as he fled down the corridor. But for each superpower his brain gave him, it took one away. In a flash, his brain reprioritized, shifting finite resources to the cause of survival.

I’m not very clear with what the line, “it took one away” means? What do ‘it’ and ‘one’ represent? Is ‘it’ a substitute for his brain or ‘a superpower’? Is ‘one’ “one of those superpowers” or “him”?

What does 'for" of 'for each superpower' function for? Is it grammatically or rhetorically wrong, if I take ‘for’ away from the line, and say “His brain took away each superpower it gave him”?

How can I rephrase it in a clearer way, without using substitutes, “it” and “one,” (even if the end result includes redundant expressions)?

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"It (his brain) took one (superpower) away" –  Mitch Jun 16 '13 at 2:04
To those who casted for “Close” votes: Would you cast “Close” after giving your own answer or comment to each point of my question? Even if it looks a naive and self-explanatory question to you, it can be a big and worth-for-trying-to-ask question for us, non-native English learners like Japanese, Chinese. Korean, Thais, Indonesian, Malaysian, Mexican, Brazilian and you can name it. I don’t think EL&U is the site only allowed to English language specialists and fluent native English speakers. –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 17 '13 at 1:13
Cont. It’s unfair, mean and even coward and shameful to simply cast a ‘Close’ and ‘Down’ vote, without giving any clear reason under your name. At least, it’s autocratic practice, and not a democratic way of behaving, which I think you should attach importance. –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 17 '13 at 1:16
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1 Answer

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There's no doubt that it here refers to his brain.

It's semantically confusing, because we have to bear in mind that his brain is being treated as something different/external to him. But structurally it's the same as...

For each door God closes, He opens another. (the number of "open doors" remains constant).

The "redundant" version of the key sentence in OP's text would thus be...

But for each superpower his brain gave him, his brain took another superpower away.

To be honest, I don't think native speakers would normally have a problem identifying the referents of it and one (unless perhaps the him/his brain distinction was causing confusion already).

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FumbleFingers. Thanks for a pertinent answer as usual. Your last line is interesting, because as I recall, the most frequent question raised in English classes and English reading circles in Japan is what ‘it’ represents for in the given sentence, whether it represents the antecedent word /clause or postposition or following clause. Sometimes we endlessly argue about what ‘it’ does mean. “It” is always the problem for us in learning English. . –  Yoichi Oishi Jun 16 '13 at 12:26
@Yoichi: Ah, right! I think now I see where your confusion might lie! You wonder if it's a dummy "it" (which I think of as existential "it") that doesn't necessarily refer to anything in particular. As in "It's raining". Interestingly, in your last sentence above, you could quite reasonably have discarded the quote marks around "it", without (imho) changing the meaning at all. –  FumbleFingers Jun 16 '13 at 14:32
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