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Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain: The Science of Neuroeconomics (Bradford Books) Hardcover – March 1, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0262072441 ISBN-10: 0262072440 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

From Scientific American

The notion that the brain and central nervous system are made of circuits that process stimuli and evoke bodily responses is a founding principle of neuroscience. And we humans believe that once we understand every neural pathway, we will be able to predict a motor response to every sensory input—from feeling the tug of a fish on a hook to catching your spouse in bed with someone else. All we have to do is build the right deterministic model of the brain. In Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain: The Science of Neuroeconomics, Paul W. Glimcher, an associate professor of neural science and psychology at New York University, recounts how the history of neuroscience has brought humankind to this reflex-based model—and then explains why it is insufficient. Simple behaviors might arise from stimulus-response rules, he allows, but complex behaviors are far less predictable. For example, the brain can weigh value and risk, even with incomplete or uncertain information. But how? Fortunately, Glimcher points out, there is already a science to answer that question: economics, particularly game theory. Other scientists have tapped economic theory to explain the natural world. In the 1960s certain ecologists used the discipline to model how animals forage for food and choose a mate. Glimcher makes a case that "neuroeconomics" can complete our understanding of our brains. He cites his own experiments on humans and monkeys to show how economic principles can accurately represent intricate thought processes, in situations rife with competing values and interests. As the book proceeds, the going can get tough, but the historical insight is worth the trip. Readers may feel a bit unsatisfied when Glimcher notes that a unified theory of neuroeconomics has yet to be written and then admits that he doesn’t know what this theory would look like. Yet he rises to the occasion by suggesting how scientists could begin to apply neuroeconomics to define the optimal course of action that a person might select and by providing a mathematical route for deriving that solution. In this way, Glimcher says, scientists can devise a better understanding of how the brain makes complex decisions in an uncertain world.

Dennis Watkins --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


"Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain is a worthwhile book."
William H. Redmond, Journal of Economic Issues

"The book is an absorbing introduction to the emerging field of neuroeconomics."
Kenneth Silber, Tech Central Station

"The book presents an extraordinary, thought-provoking, challenging, and immensely charming account of present and future neuroscience."
Wolfram Schultz, Science

"This book will surely ignite discussion and soul searching among serious neuroscientists..."
P. Read Montague, Nature

"Glimcher has achieved an extraordinary synthesis of perspectives that have remained isolated for far too long. He views the brain as a system designed to maximize neither pleasure nor social or economic success, but biological fitness instead. He goes on to show why this matters in fields as disparate as psychology, economics, and his own field of neurobiology. This is an impressive and highly readable journey through vast areas of scientific and philosophical knowledge."
—Alex Kacelnik, Professor of Behavioural Ecology, Oxford University

"Glimcher's seminal book is a must-read in the emerging field of neuroeconomics. His analysis of the biological foundations of economic behavior makes for exciting reading for economists and neuroscientists alike, who will be fascinated by his insightful research connecting neuronal firing and economic decision making."
—Kevin A. McCabe, Professor of Economics and Law, and Director of the Neuroeconomics Laboratory at the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science, George Mason University

"Glimcher does extraordinary neuroscience and relates it to the most fundamental of all questions: how the brain makes decisions. His use of game theory to characterize decision making in both humans and monkeys under conditions of strategic conflict is unique. What could be more important than studying the neurobiological basis of volitional choice in earnest? The implications and applications of his work are singular."
—Michael S. Gazzaniga, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Dartmouth College

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Product Details

  • Series: Bradford Books
  • Hardcover: 395 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (March 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262072440
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262072441
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,229,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

If you think neurons are fairly interesting, you will most likely enjoy this book.
Diego Azeta
Paul W. Glimcher contends that Descartes' deterministic theory that simple behavior operates according to reflexes is influential far beyond its merits.
Rolf Dobelli
For example, chapter 5 describes important experiments by Newsome and Shadlen that are not really neuroeconomics.
Mathew Holden

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Richard L. Peterson on September 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
One of this book's greatest gifts is to clearly explain how our thinking about our thinking (neuroscience) has evolved over the past 2000 years. This book makes a significant contribution to the readers' historical understanding of psychology, philosophy, mathematics, and game theory.
One weakness of the book's approach is the lack of references to affect (emotion), which is suggested to have an impact on human utility and probability estimations in (Loewenstein, Loewenstein, Weber, & Welch, 2000), (Slovic, Finucane, Peters, and MacGregor, 2002), and (Knutson and Peterson, 2003). In fact, Glimcher states: "Neuroeconomics provides a model of the architecture that links brain and behavior. Mind, though it may very much exist, simply does not figure in that equation (p343)."
The author's conclusions are limited to a logical, computational frame of reference - a form of computational behaviorism. This style certainly has applications within limited experimental games, but it is doubtful that it will provide significant insight into the workings of complex dynamic systems, such as the financial markets, without incorporating symbolic psychological concepts (such as affect).
This book is an excellent introduction to the field of neuroeconomics. Glimcher's exposition of the evolution of neuroscientific thought is fascinating and worth savoring. Glimcher's discussion of game theory is fascinating, but applications to real-world environments are not directly posited.
The latter half of the book, while intellectually interesting, reads much like an expanded academic journal article. Glimcher explains his lab's experimental trials and tribulations in much of the second half...
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Mathew Holden on July 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Deisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain feels undigested, as if the author crammed in the library for a month and wrote a book on his notes.
Part I covers the neuro-, Part II covers the -economics, but instead of Part III, covering neuroeconomics, there's a 17-page-short chapter called "Putting It All Together."
For most of the book, things don't merge. For example, chapter 5 describes important experiments by Newsome and Shadlen that are not really neuroeconomics. Four seemingly tacked-on paragraphs at the end of the chapter argue that neuroeconomics has something to say about the experiments. But it's not clear what that is, and it's not clear why Glimcher didn't choose a more obviously relevant example.
A more general problem is that Glimcher argues throughout that current approaches to neuroscience are all reflex-based, and we need a major paradigm shift to make any more progress in brain research. But the examples he gives that employ his new paradigm seem to be well within the realm of normal cognitive neurophysiology. For example, the Ciaramitaro et al. attention experiments described in chapter 13 are elegant, but don't come across as paradigm shifting, in either the chapter, or the original Vision Research paper. Neuroeconomics comes to seem like just another tool in the toolbox, instead of a big new theory.
It may be that there is no Part III because the science has not yet happened. In which case, not writing more about it was a good thing to do. Parsimony is a virtue, but if there is not enough of a story to tell, I would have liked to see the author present his ideas about the major problems for the field, a Hilbert's 23 for neuroscience in the 21st century. Instead chapter 13 gives us four toy problems in primate physiology.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sooty Mangabey on July 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
70 years ago, behavioral economists were trapped outside the black box for the same reasons everyone was: science couldn't see inside the brain directly. Like behavioral psychologists, they decided to make a virtue out of a neccessity and ignore the black box.
Now behavioral economists can look inside the black box, but most choose to ignore it, perhaps because the learning curves on physiology and imaging are so steep.
Glimcher argues in this wonderful book that neuroscientists are unwittingly trapped inside the same black box, and need a way out. Maybe they can befriend those behavioral economists. Consider this book an arranged date that will hopefully turn into a long marriage.
It is rare for a book aimed at the public to be written by a young and active scientist. The obvious comparison is Spikes, by Reike, et al. But whereas Spikes was too mathematical for the general reader, Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain never gets
boring. It describes fascinating experiments, both 100 years old and being done right now. Experiments that you've never heard of, but you should. Best of all, it describes them passionately and non-scarily.
More importantly, Decisions points throughout to directions for future research, rather than only describing past experiments.
Don't be fooled by the book's elegance. It is meticulously crafted to be enjoyable to the lay reader but also highly rewarding someone more familiar with the research described. In short, a masterpiece.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By whiteelephant on May 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
It begins with the subtitle "The Science of Neuroeconomics" - what does that term even mean? As far as I can tell, Glimcher never defines it. Somewhere along the line he does tell us, as if it's a novel insight, that the purpose of the brain is 'decision making'. Now, if we define decision-making as selection of behavior from multiple options, this is as obvious as saying that the function of the heart is to circulate blood. In studying 'neuroeconomics', Glimcher is really just studying neuroscience - how the brain controls behavior. The term is nothing but fancy repackaging for the business/econ crowd.

If it were just the term, I could easily forgive the oversell. However, Glimcher recounts an entire selective history of neuroscience to convince you that he is part of a group of scientists who are radically changing the way we think about ourselves. Glimcher first introduces Descartes' dualism with which to anchor his book. Various figures are introduced, culminating in Sherrington, who shift neuroscience to a deterministic, reflex-oriented framework (strangely, he never once mentions the name Skinner). While a few early 20th-century neurophysiologists are introduced who challenged these theories of sensory-driven reflex-like behavior, he then skips over half a century of neuroscience and psychology to inform us that certain recent models still have a 'reflex-like' flavor. Ignored is the entire cognitive revolution, and the foundation of cognitive neuroscience. David Marr is the lone exception, introduced as a prophet, apparently the first and only person to propose that the brain should be studied based on its computational goals.

Okay, I should forgive the simplification of history, right?
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