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Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are [Hardcover]

Sebastian Seung
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 7, 2012 0547508182 978-0547508184 None
We know that each of us is unique, but science has struggled to pinpoint where, precisely, our uniqueness resides. Is it in our genes? The structure of our brains? Our genome may determine our eye color and even aspects of our personality. But our friendships, failures, and passions also shape who we are. The question is: how?

Sebastian Seung, a dynamic professor at MIT, is on a quest to discover the biological basis of identity. He believes it lies in the pattern of connections between the brain s neurons, which change slowly over time as we learn and grow. The connectome, as it s called, is where our genetic inheritance intersects with our life experience. It s where nature meets nurture.

Seung introduces us to the dedicated researchers who are mapping the brain s connections, neuron by neuron, synapse by synapse. It is a monumental undertaking the scientific equivalent of climbing Mount Everest but if they succeed, it could reveal the basis of personality, intelligence, memory, and perhaps even mental disorders. Many scientists speculate that people with anorexia, autism, and schizophrenia are "wired differently," but nobody knows for sure. The brain s wiring has never been clearly seen.

In sparklingly clear prose, Seung reveals the amazing technological advances that will soon help us map connectomes. He also examines the evidence that these maps will someday allow humans to "upload" their minds into computers, achieving a kind of immortality.

Connectome is a mind-bending adventure story, told with great passion and authority. It presents a daring scientific and technological vision for at last understanding what makes us who we are. Welcome to the future of neuroscience.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

With the first-person flavour of James Watson's Double Helix, Connectome gives a sense of the excitement on the cutting edge of neuroscience New Scientist Witty and exceptionally clear ... beautifully explained ... the best lay book on brain science I've ever read Wall Street Journal Seung is about to revolutionise brain science The Times --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Review

Publishers Weekly Top Ten in Science for Spring 2012

“the best lay book on brain science I’ve ever read.” — Wall Street Journal by Daniel Levitin, Professor, McGill University; author of This Is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs.

“‎This is complicated stuff, and it is a testament to Dr. Seung’s remarkable clarity of exposition that the reader is swept along with his enthusiasm, as he moves from the basics of neuroscience out to the farthest regions of the hypothetical, sketching out a spectacularly illustrated giant map of the universe of man.” — New York Times

“[A] bracing, mind-expanding report from neuroscience’s razor edge. Accessible, witty, [e]minently logical and at times poetic, Connectome establishes Seung as an important new researcher, philosopher and popularizer of brain science. It puts him on par with cosmology’s Brian Greene and the late Carl Sagan.” — Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Seung argues intelligently and powerfully that the self lies in the totality of the brain’s wiring.” — Nature by Christof Koch, Professor, California Institute of Technology; Chief Scientific Officer, Allen Institute for Brain Science; author of Quest for Consciousness and Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

“With the first-person flavour of James Watson’s Double Helix—an account of how DNA’s structure was discovered—Connectome gives a sense of the excitement on the cutting edge of neuroscience.” — NewScientist by Terry Sejnowski, Professor and Director, Computational Neurobiology Lab, Salk Institute; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Member, National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering USA.

“an elegant primer on what’s known about how the brain is organized and how it grows, wires its neurons, perceives its environment, modifies or repairs itself, and stores information. Seung is a clear, lively writer who chooses vivid examples.” — Washington Post

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade; None edition (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547508182
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547508184
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #214,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sebastian Seung is Professor of Computational Neuroscience and Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Harvard University, and formerly worked at Bell Laboratories. His research on artificial intelligence and neuroscience has been published in leading scientific journals, and also featured in the New York Times, Technology Review, and the Economist. His laboratory at MIT is currently inventing technologies for mapping connections between the brain's neurons, and investigating the hypothesis that we are all unique because we are "wired differently."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
89 of 92 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Unusual December 24, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a very good book with a very strange name. "Connectome" means the entire collection of our brain's neuronal connections, the totality of how we are wired together. The subtitle "How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are" is a fairly accurate representation of what the book is about. I believe this is the author Sebastian Seung's first book and he demonstrates quite a talent for explaining complex topics to a general popular audience.

What I particularly like about this book was the material was not at all the usual popular neuroscience stuff. This book covered new ground for me and I think will for most other readers. Seung spends a decent amount of time in the beginning explaining some basics about neurons and how the brain works, but it is when you get into the central ideas of the book that it gets really interesting.

One thing I really liked about the book was how the author explained the technologies and challenges required to actually create a connectome of even simple brains much less a human. According to Seung we don't have computers powerful enough or the tools to even analyze a cubic millimeter of a bird brain's connectome, much less a complete human brain a million times that size.

The whole book was compelling and informative and I can easily recommend it to others. One thing to keep in mind however, is that it is very futuristic in a sense. Seung's ideas are very plausible to me but still unproven and speculative. The technology to validate them is not going to be available for many years.
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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain Matters January 10, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I loved this absorbing book about neuroscience that took me through the past, present and future of the human brain. Though I'm not a scientist, I easily understood the challenges, clearly laid down by Dr. Seung, of finding connectomes. His very eclectic approach made it that much more interesting, as he argued from "first principles," and questioned all of his beliefs.

Prior to reading "Connectome," I had never heard the term, originally coined by Olaf Sporns and his colleagues in a 2005 paper. "A connectome is the totality of connections between the neurons in a nervous system. ... It is all of the connections." (xiii) "You may have heard of the $30 million Human Connectome Project, which was announced in 2010 by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Most people don't realize that this project is only about regional connectomes, and has nothing to do with neuronal connectomes." (181) While Dr. Seung concedes that "in the immediate future, a regional connectome seems like the most useful kind for psychologists and neurologists" he is forward thinking to a day that all 100 billion neurons in the human brain are named, given a characteristic location and shape and are diagrammed. "To find connectomes, we will have to create machines that produce clear images of neurons and synapses over a large field of view." (140)

This is an ambitious goal. "We still don't know how many types [of neurons] there are, though we know the number is large. The brain is more like a tropical rainforest, which contains hundreds of species, than a coniferous forest with perhaps a single species of pine tree. One expert has estimated that there are thousands of neuron types in the cortex alone." (176) The connectome of a small roundworm (C.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The World Within Web January 14, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"Worthwhile things that have never been done can only be done by means that have never yet existed," Sebastian Seung tells us in CONNECTOME. Mapping the 100+ billion neurons in the human brain is certainly one such project, and we are far from having the means to do so.

But already, with the mapping and study of the 300 neurons in the C.elegans roundworm and ongoing development in imaging technology (such as the automated ultramicrotome), we are making strides toward understanding the structure and function of diverse neurons, and how their interactive network operates.

Author Seung is a professor of neuroscience at MIT, and a leading researcher on neural networks and the still-theoretical connectome. The term connectome, first coined in 2005, refers to the totality of connections between neurons. The field of neuroscience involves learning how neurons are strengthened, weakened, weighted and eliminated and how they connect and reconnect, rewire, and regenerate.

The first half of his book begins with chapters about: 1) the structure and role of neurons; 2) connectomes and their interconnectivity; 3) how memories are impressed and stored; 4) and genes. The next sections cover the development of imaging technologies and the lifelong task of reading and interpreting the voluminous data acquired.

Unfortunately, at this point, Seung comes across less as a scientist and more as a science fiction writer as he resorts to speculation about cryonics (brain and body preservation), uploading brains into computers, and immortality. The book would be much more substantial if he omitted the last few chapters.

Seung, however, is a talented writer with the unique ability to impart scientific theory in understandable language.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Connections
Is all about wiring that has more meaning than plain wires, neurons spike, nerutransmitters are released, synapsis strengthen, it makes sense after all chemicals and electric... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Rosendo Gonzalez Gomis.
5.0 out of 5 stars Connectome
I love it. Always been fascinated by the way the brain functions. This will answer a lot of questions for me.
Published 1 month ago by Gerald DeSmet
2.0 out of 5 stars This is not a book for me
The introduction to this book is very proper, scientists usually summarize their results in the introductions and present then the 'chapter and verse'. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ladislav Nemec
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
This is full of great information if you are interested in the brain and how we are wired It arrivedd quickly and in excellent condition.
Published 3 months ago by Jolene Palmer
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting new concept
I have indicated the degree to which I have appreciated this purchase and how it his been of value to me. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Wayne
4.0 out of 5 stars Great background on Neuroscience
I am a PH.D. neuroscientist and think this book explains this new paradigm of how to look at the human nervous system. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Robert L. Polzin
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT
I always get great products from Amazon . They ensure you always get what you are paying for, and if not great return.
Published 4 months ago by Scott Donar
5.0 out of 5 stars Christmas gift
I purchased this book at the request of a relative. Perfect Christmas gift for him as it the type of reading material he enjoys.
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars I guess it's Goidelic
I kinda -sorta understood it, and think it was good. Others say even laymen can understand it, so I guess I agree.
Published 6 months ago by Andy Howley
5.0 out of 5 stars My line of future research
Bought the book as my own personal introduction to brain function, excellent work, got more knowledge from on it on brain functions
Published 6 months ago by Christian
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