Future of the Brain: Essays by the World’s Leading Neuroscientists
edited by Gary Marcus and Jeremy Freeman
Posted: Leonardo Reviews, May 2017
One of the Times Higher Education’s Best Books of 2015, Future of the Brain offers a compilation of original essays by leading brain researchers. Divided into seven sections, the range and disparities of the authors’ views underscore the dearth of an overarching theory researchers apply to studies in this area. Cross-references among chapters do, however, remind us that science itself succeeds through communication among scientists about what their data says. Also noteworthy is that, even given the spectrum of views, most of the authors share a “we can do this” attitude: They are confident we can and will eventually understand the brain. Suffice it to say, as Gary Marcus, one of the book’s two editors notes: “Neuroscience today is a collection of facts, rather than ideas; what is missing is connective tissue. We know (or think we know) roughly what neurons do, and that they communicate with one another, but not what they are communicating” (p. 205).
The first section, mapping the brain, presents connectome projects. This idea (with computation) is the primary research paradigm presented in the book. Essays by Mike Hawrylycz, Misha Ahrens, Christof Koch, Anthony Zador, and George Church set the stage for this book’s survey of current efforts to understand brain connectivity through mapping and imaging neural activities of mice, strategies for reverse engineering and so forth. Computation, the subject of the second section, includes essays by May-Britt and Edvard Moser, Krishna Shenoy, Olaf Sporns, and Jeremy Freeman. Together the two sections argue that the brain is an organ of computation and scientists need to figure out what the brain is computing. Continue reading “Book Review by Amy Ione: Future of the Brain: Essays by the World’s Leading Neuroscientists”
Art and the Brain: Plasticity, Embodiment, and the Unclosed Circle. by Amy Ione. (2016, Rodopi Brill). ISBN: 978-9004322981
Buy it Now.
In her new book Art and the Brain: Plasticity, Embodiment and the Unclosed Circle, author Amy Ione offers a profound assessment of our ever-evolving view of the biological brain as it pertains to embodied human experience. She deftly takes the reader from Deep History into our current worldview by surveying the range of nascent responses to perception, thoughts and feelings that have bred paradigmatic changes and led to contemporary research modalities. Interweaving carefully chosen illustrations with the emerging ideas of brain function that define various time periods reinforces a multidisciplinary framework connecting neurological research, theories of mind, art investigations, and intergenerational cultural practices. The book will serve as a foundation for future investigations of neuroscience, art, and the humanities.
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Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited
Reviewed by Amy Ione
Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited offers an explicit sequel to the discussion featured in the 1990 book Representation in Scientific Practice . I use the word sequel because this more recent volume is not an update so much as an effort to show that the questions surrounding representation inhabit a quite different theoretical and conceptual landscape 25 years later.
The 1990 book grew out of a workshop on “Visualization and Cognition” held in Paris in 1983 . Although a compilation of already published articles, the book is now remembered as a contribution that helped to coalesce the late 20th century discourse on scientific visualization among historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science on visualization and representation. In some ways it was also representative of how Kuhnian paradigms had changed thinking. Thomas Kuhn introduced paradigmatic thinking in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions . His thesis about distinctive ways of thinking in historical eras, in turn, laid the foundation for a focus on scientific context and a more nuanced approach to ideas and practices. With the first Representations volume it was clear that the discussion had shifted accordingly and included enhanced sensitivity to how humanists and social scientists perceived and modeled reality. Within this framework, epistemological thinking and practices were elevated.
The second volume demonstrates that this sea change brought about a focus on ethnographic studies within Science and Technology Studies (STS). The systematic study of scientists working and the environments in which they practice is so predominant in the articles of the second volume that an unacknowledged subtheme of the book is the degree to which practices within environments are now representative of what Kuhn might call a “normal” approach in historical, humanistic, and sociological investigation. Indeed, as author after author explained the design of his or her ethnographic study it is hard to miss how standardized the approach is. No doubt this is why some of the authors ask if the time is ripe for a shift from an epistemological to an ontological treatment of the representations concept.
Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited itself is comprised of 14 lengthy papers primarily by younger scholars and seven brief, reflective pieces by established academics.
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Book Review of Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind by Ben Shephard. Reviewed by Amy Ione.
Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind
by Ben Shephard
Reviewed by Amy Ione
Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind traces a slice of history that in turn introduces us to some of those drawn to study human psychology and mental health a few decades after Darwin’s theory of evolution took root. Four of these pioneers are the focus of this book: William Rivers, Grafton Elliot Smith, Charles Myers, and William McDougall. They met at Cambridge in the 1890s and Shephard links their lives more broadly through their efforts to study the brain as biological approaches were gaining increased leverage due to Darwin’s work. The author begins the book by placing us in that context:
“How, then, did the human brain evolve? Why did it evolve as it did? In the 1870s, modern experimental neuroscience began, using electricity to stimulate the nervous system of animals and microscopes to observe the nerve cells of humans. Within two decades, researchers had established the location of functions within the brain, unraveled the way that the nervous system automatically governs the body’s functions, and begun to discover how messages are sent between neurons and synapses. But these extraordinary advances only posed further questions — about human behavior; man’s relations to his fellow primates, and the human occupation of the earth. A generation of scientists went looking for answers” (p. 1).
Continue reading “Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind (Book Review)”
After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain (Reviewed by Amy Ione)
After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain
by Michael L. Anderson
Reviewed by Amy Ione, Director, The Diatrope Institute
After Phrenology by Michael L. Anderson is a unique and thought-provoking contribution to the current debate on how cognition interfaces with the environment and how we can move scientific studies of the brain forward. His theory of “neural reuse” is a proposal for how we may re-frame the debate and fills in some of the gaps that exist now when we communicate about the mind, the brain, and the environment. The basic idea is that, rather than seeing localized areas of brain activity as the way to define brain functionality, we should investigate the neural circuitry combinations that are employed to perform complex functions. Included in this notion is recognizing that our ways of doing things are both active and environmentally connected. For Anderson, “the Modern, Modular, cognitivist assumptions that have guided research during most of the last 50 years of cognitive neuroscience have not been borne out by the data this research produced” (p. 301-302) and, thus, this book is a call for a new kind of approach–neural reuse. He additionally offers a theoretical framework that claims to show how this design offers an evolutionarily informed framework, one that has the capacity to both explain brain functions and recognize our embeddedness in our environments. Continue reading “After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain (Reviewed by Amy Ione)”