92 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genuine brain networks and brain complexity
The label "networks" in the title of this impressive book may fail to fully capture the incredible richness of intricate (multi-scale) brain structure depicted here. Perhaps an added adjective like "genuine" might serve to contrast this work with the many "toy" neural networks illustrated in other publications. To get some idea of the complexity of the genuine brain...
Published on December 8, 2010 by Paul L. Nunez
13 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A confused explanation of network theory and neuroscience
In this book the author tries to connect network theory to neuroscience and in the process manages to obscure what it was he was focusing on. While the premise is intriguing the author doesn't provide concrete examples that illustrate the cross over of network theory with neuroscience. His heavy reliance on jargon also doesn't help. This may be a book that is appropriate...
Published on November 26, 2011 by Taylor Ellwood
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92 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genuine brain networks and brain complexity,
This review is from: Networks of the Brain (Hardcover)The label "networks" in the title of this impressive book may fail to fully capture the incredible richness of intricate (multi-scale) brain structure depicted here. Perhaps an added adjective like "genuine" might serve to contrast this work with the many "toy" neural networks illustrated in other publications. To get some idea of the complexity of the genuine brain networks discussed here, picture your living room fully packed top to bottom with centimeter scale worms representing (scaled up) axons linking 100 billion cell bodies. Your worm visitors occupy multiple intricate paths; many are short and form local worm societies (modules), but some cross the entire room and allow remote worm modules to interact non-locally.
Sporns asks what network science might tell us about the brain. He begins with a non mathematical overview of graph theory, "graphs" being mathematicians' abstract label for "networks." Sporns considers both structural (fixed wiring) and functional (dynamic) interactions between brain network nodes and modules. "Modules" are defined here as communities of nodes with large numbers of internal interconnections that may, in some cases, be viewed as "super nodes" or nodes defined at larger scales. To adopt the metaphor of human social networks, neurons are analogous to persons and the modules at various scales are analogous to neighborhoods, cities, and nations.
Like social systems, brain networks exhibit a striking (nested) hierarchical modularity, essentially small networks within larger networks within still larger networks, much like nested Russian dolls. This multi-scale structure may account for much of the brain's complex behavior. I quote the famous neuroscientist Vernon Mountcastle with Sporns' provocative suggestion added in brackets, "the dynamic interaction between brain subsystems [organized in modular hierarchies] lies at the very essence of brain function." Sporns emphasizes this point by pointing out that descriptions of the brain at large scales should not be regarded as poorly resolved approximations of an underlying microscopic order; rather different scales offer parallel and complementary views of brain organization. Failure to appreciate this critical issue and focus only on a single favored level of organization may be labeled "scale chauvinism" (my words).
One important idea emerging from graph theory is that of "small world" networks, illustrated in social networks by strangers (perhaps living on opposite sides of the world) linked by a few acquaintances. The high density of short-range brain connections coupled with a small admixture of long-range connections favors small world behavior. Small worlds also promote high complexity; they appear to be quite abundant in brain structural networks, across systems, scales, and species. Network disruptions, perhaps due to lesions of network hubs, are believed to be associated with mental disturbances or other diseases.
A later chapter focuses on the neural complexity issue addressed in several earlier chapters. While there is no agreed upon rigorous measure of neural (or any other system) "complexity," many complex systems have certain common features, including the hierarchical modularity evident in brain tissue. Sporns argues that system complexity is high when order and disorder coexist. For example, the molecules in a gas exhibit (random) disorder, whereas the molecules in a crystal are ordered, but neither system qualifies as a complex system. Rather, organizational mixtures of order and disorder are hallmarks of complexity. Another common feature of complex systems is that segregation and integration of structure and dynamic activity coexist. Different parts of the brain do different things; yet they work together to produce a uniform behavior and consciousnes, a condition greatly facilitated by small world networks.
This book should have broad appeal among many neuroscientists working in disparate areas of brain science. The writing is clear with many useful figures (including beautiful color plates) and directed examples absent even a single equation. The latter feature will evidently broaden the book's appeal, although some may wish for some mathematical support in an Appendix. In any case, one can confidently predict that Sporns' book will become an essential reference on many neuroscientists' bookshelves well into the future.
The material in this book overlaps several other books aimed at broad audiences. Earlier in his career, Sporns worked closely with Gerald Edelman and Giulio Tononi; their book A Universe Of Consciousness How Matter Becomes Imagination (1995) provides and nice introduction to Sporns' conceptual framework in "Networks of the Brain." My new book (2010) emphasizes the critical importance of nested hierarchy in brain tissue, and also speculates in the wider world of intra and extra cranial information and its possible fundamental role in the production of consciousness.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Excellent Book,
This review is from: Networks of the Brain (Hardcover)This book is an excellent coverage of brain networks, covering structural, functional, and effective connectivity and their respective dynamics. I am a neurobiologist but this book is presented in such a way that it builds up to complex subjects with topics and language that non-neuroscientists (for instance computer scientists and mathematicians) can understand. There are no equations in the book and yet the mathematical concepts are explained clearly so that they can be easily understood.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent for the lay reader as well,
This review is from: Networks of the Brain (Hardcover)I'm not a neuroscientist but have read a fair amount on the subject. This book was great, it builds up an understanding of networks in general and their application to brain science. It summarizes a lot of the latest science and makes claims that are largely in line with other authors I've read (e.g. Tononi, Gerald Edelman, Joaquin Fuster). In other words, from the perspective of someone on the sidelines, Sporns backs up the central claims with a whole lot of evidence. I'm very glad I read it and I plan on re-reading it soon to make sure it sinks in. Whatever little networks make up my brain got a good workout
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent introduction to graph theory for neuroimagers,
This review is from: Networks of the Brain (Hardcover)I work in neuroimaging. I've read this book cover to cover and I'm very impressed with the clarity of the writing.
Sporns tells you where he's going and summarizes each section so you are sure to get the main points. Each section leads into the next section.
The only chapter that did not provide enough background for me was Chapter 12 on Dynamics....clearly a difficult topic.
Thankyou Dr Sporns! You've opened up a whole new world to me.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't buy Kindle version!,
This review is from: Networks of the Brain (Kindle Edition)This appears to be a fascinating book, but the Kindle version does not include the color plates, which is very disappointing, given that you must pay more for the Kindle version than a hard copy. I returned my Kindle version, and will be buying the hard copy instead.
After buying a hard copy of the book, I discovered that the color plates are indeed to be found in the Kindle version, at the very end of the book. It is unfortunate that Amazon does not include information about color illustrations in their online descriptions--the sample chapter that you can download for free does not always give any indication of whether color plates are included (according to the Amazon representative I spoke to, it's up to each publisher to decide whether or not to include color plates in the Kindle version).
In the end, I returned the hard copy and repurchased the Kindle version, because I mostly use Kindle on my Mac, which allows me to easily copy text and paste it into another document, saving me many hours of typing and editing by hand.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Good Book!,
This review is from: Networks of the Brain (Hardcover)I read "Networks of the Brain" from cover-to-cover, and looked forward to reading more of it after each new chapter. Olaf Sporns has crafted a beautiful little book. The writing is some of the best I have seen. His style is clear and elegant, and he makes it all seem effortless. It is so very refreshing to see.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heavily into graph theoretical aspects,
This review is from: Networks of the Brain (Hardcover)I was hoping for a picture book with images of white matter tracts what I got was an argument for graph theory
5.0 out of 5 stars A theoretical framework firmly rooted in brain biology,
This review is from: Networks of the Brain (Hardcover)This book is a tour de force, an ambitious and thorough review of the field of network neuroscience that everyone interested in cognitive neuroscience or related fields should read. In short, Sporns shows how the tools, concepts and frameworks developed to analyze networks (say traffic control, communications, the world wide web, or whatever) can be used to analyze brain structure and function, from cellular levels all the way up to complex cognitive processing. Although it would seem at first intuitive (the brain being composed of a vast array of interconnected nodes, a network), the field is quite young, and most literature reviewed by Sporns is very recent (the last 20 years or so). This book will be seriously discussed by cognitive scientists for years to come.
In the first chapters Sporns defines network and information theory tools and concepts, such as "nodes", "edges", "clustering", "path length", etc. in non-technical terms (that is, no equations, although fully understanding everything in the book could require more than one read), and explained how they are used to analyze complex networks. The rest of the book is devoted to showing how these can be applied to brain networks, and lead to novel predictions and adequate modeling of brain structure, brain evolution and development, brain dynamics, cognition, brain functional disorders and behavior, to name a few. Just as an example, "small-world network", one with high clustering and short-path length turns out to be a property of complex, modular interconnected networks, and it is indeed also a characteristic of brain networks, that studies have correlated to efficient connectivity and cognitive processing.
Sporns does leave me with a thirst for some more speculative ideas. He does state that "perhaps network thinking will eventually allow us to move beyond neural reductionism and cognitive functionalism and formulate a theoretical framework for cognition that is firmly grounded in the biology of the brain" (page 206). But I would argue that the whole book is a big empirical argument against strong functionalism (mind is identical to the functional properties of abstract information processing, independent of any hardware, thus "multiple realizable"). A recurrent theme is how structure and function come hand in hand and how one determines the characteristics of the other, and not in a trivial way. These ideas lead to a very reasonable and moderate interpretation of embodied cognition (Chapter 14).
Network theory seems to lead to a fusion of functionalist and identity theory views of mind, where each dynamic state of a complex network depends on both a specific functional role and on a specific neural implementation, and cannot be solely reduced to either description. This more "philosophically" oriented interpretation could lead to a resolution of many modern debates in philosophy of mind (consciousness and qualia, for example; although Sporns does comment on the "dynamic core" hypothesis of consciousness, a network-derived theory of consciousness proposed by himself, Edelman and Tononi, involving integration and complexity measures of network dynamics as essential for conscious processing). Whether this specific proposal is on the right level of description to have explanatory value for the problem of consciousness is open to debate. Just because consciousness is complex and integrated does not mean its neural correlates must be complex and integrated. They could very well be, but it's just like saying "consciousness is mysterious, quantum physics are mysterious, and so they must be related". But I digress. As a fully empirical approach, network neuroscience will surely continue to grow and I predict soon will be successful in explaining some of the most complex issues in cognitive science.
5.0 out of 5 stars My comments on the book "Netwroks of the Brain",
This review is from: Networks of the Brain (Hardcover)My comment on the book "Netwroks of the Brain":
The book is an excellent book, with detailed descriptions with examples regarding the brain's neural networks, consistent with my works!..
13 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A confused explanation of network theory and neuroscience,
This review is from: Networks of the Brain (Hardcover)In this book the author tries to connect network theory to neuroscience and in the process manages to obscure what it was he was focusing on. While the premise is intriguing the author doesn't provide concrete examples that illustrate the cross over of network theory with neuroscience. His heavy reliance on jargon also doesn't help. This may be a book that is appropriate in the neuroscience field, but if his goal is to write a book for a more general audience, it didn't work.
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Networks of the Brain by Olaf Sporns (Hardcover - October 1, 2010)