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Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are [Kindle Edition]

Joseph LeDoux
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $18.00
Kindle Price: $11.99
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

In 1996 Joseph LeDoux's The Emotional Brain presented a revelatory examination of the biological bases of our emotions and memories. Now, the world-renowned expert on the brain has produced with a groundbreaking work that tells a more profound story: how the little spaces between the neurons—the brain's synapses—are the channels through which we think, act, imagine, feel, and remember. Synapses encode the essence of personality, enabling each of us to function as a distinctive, integrated individual from moment to moment. Exploring the functioning of memory, the synaptic basis of mental illness and drug addiction, and the mechanism of self-awareness, Synaptic Self is a provocative and mind-expanding work that is destined to become a classic.

Editorial Reviews Review

A middle-aged neuroscientist walking down Bourbon Street spots a T-shirt that reads, "I don't know, so maybe I'm not." This stimulus zooms from eyes to brain, neuron by neuron, via tiny junctions called synapses. The results? An immediate chuckle and (sometime later) a groundbreaking book titled The Synaptic Self. To Joseph LeDoux, the simple question, "What makes us who we are?" represents the driving force behind his 20-plus years of research into the cognitive, emotional, and motivational functions of the brain.

LeDoux believes the answer rests in the synapses, key players in the brain's intricately designed communication system. In other words, the pathways by which a person's "hardwired" responses (nature) mesh with his or her unique life experiences (nurture) determine that person's individuality. Here, LeDoux nimbly compresses centuries of philosophy, psychology, and biology into an amazingly clear picture of humanity's journey toward understanding the self.

Equally readable is his comprehensive science lesson, where detailed circuit speak reads like an absorbing--yet often humorous--mystery novel. Skillfully presenting research studies and findings alongside their various implications, LeDoux makes a solid case for accepting a synaptic explanation of existence and provides to the reader generous helpings of knowledge, amusement, and awe along the way. --Liane Thomas

From Publishers Weekly

Despite ongoing debate about the root cause of psychological disorders, most agree that the development of the self is central to the distinction between normality and psychopathology. Yet neuroscientists have been slow to probe the biological basis for our sense of self, focusing instead on states of consciousness. LeDoux (The Emotional Brain), professor at New York University's Center for Neural Sciences, has come up with a theory: it's the neural pathways the synaptic relationships in our brains that make us who we are. Starting with a description of basic neural anatomy (including how neurons communicate, the brain's embryological development and some of the key neural pathways), LeDoux reviews experiments and research, arguing that the brain's synaptic connections provide the biological base for memory, which makes possible the sense of continuity and permanence fundamental to a "normal" conception of self. Writing for a general audience, he succeeds in making his subject accessible to the dedicated nonspecialist. He offers absorbing descriptions of some of the most fascinating case studies in his field, provides insight into the shortcomings of psychopharmacology and suggests new directions for research on the biology of mental illness. While some may disagree with LeDoux's conclusion that "the brain makes the self" through its synapses, he makes an important contribution to the literature on the relationship between these two entities. Agents, Katinka Matson and John Brockman. (On-sale: Jan. 14)

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2681 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (January 28, 2003)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001O2MQC8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #143,045 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
185 of 188 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars painless intro to synaptic structure and biochemistry August 15, 2003
The book is an introduction to neurology from the particular viewpoint of the synapse and associated biochemistry. The author's specific interest in the field is experimental research into fear circuits in the brain, and the book shows this interest well and it forms the bulk of the examples. It is not the first book in the field that i would recommend to someone just getting interested, it is an "advanced intro" if that is possible, just a little hard going if you have no idea of the terminology or general structures. But it is written to the educated laymen, doesn't require a college degree to understand it, and is a welcome addition to my expanding library on the philosophy of the mind.
The book is well written, flows nicely until the near end,(drags a little just after chapter 6 however, that is why a 4 not a 5 rating) i'd recommend "synaptic sickness" be moved to an appendix if it couldn't be integrated into the body of the book better. The scholarly apparatus is kept to a minimum yet the push to ratify/justify the new knowledge via experimental data and reference to other scientists work is clearly evident and makes the book a good intro to the field, as further study is facilitated. I found the use of concrete experimental examples and the prolific use of diagrams (especially figures 6.4 - 6.6) particularly good(very superior), the book was always engrossing and a stimulating read, not common in books written by scientists who are not teachers as well.
As to particularly important ideas: i would point to chapter 6= "small change" and the systematic analysis of Hebbian plasticity and how long-term potentiation supplies the synaptic justification for memory and learning the key chapter in the whole book.
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103 of 112 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars LeDoux's Synaptic Self is wonderful ! March 23, 2002
LeDoux starts his first chapter with a quote from Bart Simpson: "Dad, what is the mind? Is it just a system of impulses or something tangible?" My kind of humor.
LeDoux's Synaptic Self is a wonderful book loaded with clear understandable explanations and insights (his wife, a "fantastic writer," assisted) on how the brain works based on the most current neuroscience (e.g., how neurons/synapses/neurotransmitters/neuro modulators work/don't work, implicit/explicit learning/memory mechanism explanations, nature/nurture considerations, the "mental trilogy" of cognition/emotion/motivation, and much more). The book's bottom-line, he writes, is "you are your synapses." With this book, "know thyself," and even fix thyself, seem more attainable. It's a book I'll reread/study for a while.
The following are quotes from the last chapter:
Life requires many brain functions, functions require systems, and systems are made of synaptically connected neurons. We all have the same brain systems, and the number of neurons in each brain system is more or less the same in each of us as well. However, the particular way those neurons are connected is distinct, and that uniqueness, in short, is what makes us who we are.
What is remarkable is that synapses in all of these systems are capable of being modified by experience... Emotion systems [as an example]... are programmed by evolution to respond to some stimuli, so-called innate or unconditioned stimuli, like predators or pain. However, many of the things that elicit emotions in us or motivate us to act in certain ways are not preprogrammed into our brains as part of our species heritage but have to be learned by each of us.
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138 of 153 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good pop neuroscience April 22, 2003
This book is as good as a popular science book can be, and explains in easy terms some of the most important concepts in neuroscience. For this it should be widely read. However, Ledoux wants to explain the self, and not only to write a popular book on cognitive neuroscience. Now, given that it is very difficult not to accept that the self at some level is nothing but synapses, Ledoux does seem to base the self on neurobiological mechanisms. But this is no more enlightening than sayying that vision, attention, language, or even qualia are nothing but synapses, claims that at some level must also be correct. So one would expect the bulk of the book to develop principles that tie or at least correlate the self with brain mechanisms. Do we get this in Synaptic Self? well, yes and no.

Ledoux concentrates on memory, having in his last book focused on emotion. He explains memory systems from molecules to circuits, with the classical and most recent findings, including some from his own lab. He also gives a quick overview of the emotional systems of the brain, the working memory complex of the prefrontal cortex, and motivational systems of neuromodulator and brainstem and thalamocortical systems. He calls that the mental trilogy, namely cognition, emotion and motivation. Ledoux also wrote a nice chapter on some brain diseases that seem to alter these functions selectively. And thats it. Ledoux has explained the self. Or has he? Well, memory, emotion, cognition and motivation surely contribute to the making of the self, especially memory. How much of a self is left in a retrograde and anterograde severe amnesic? But this is not saying that putting them together is all the self is about. Its like saying vision, attention and waking are what consicousness is.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The souls frail dwelling house.
According to Shakespeare, the brain is the ''The souls frail dwelling house'' (King John. Act 5, Scene 7). Read more
Published 1 month ago by Simon Laub
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing synapses
A very good book for the layman. The science and termimology can be a bit overwhelming at times, but this book presents the infinite complexity of the brain and the synaptic... Read more
Published 2 months ago by James R. Cook III
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Innovative and pivotal book on theme and area that is only in it first steps. Thanks.
Published 4 months ago by Moshe Fruktman
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good, but getting dated. Where's the 2015 version.
Published 6 months ago by Change Agent
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
good book
Published 6 months ago by Manouchehri
5.0 out of 5 stars Synaptic Success: A Book Review on Synaptic Self: How our Brains...
Once again, author and neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux successfully takes his readers on a journey to explore the foundations of brain and behavior. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Alex
5.0 out of 5 stars answered a lot of gnawing questions about our gray matter
great presentation of the complex mystery of neurons, synapses, learning, chemistry, genes and memory. answered a lot of gnawing questions about our gray matter
Published 15 months ago by Jonathan Sand
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written
Still reading through. It is very well written and it is also slow going. I feel I will like it very much
Published 16 months ago by chun ryu
4.0 out of 5 stars A neuroscience book that goes more into the brain mechanisms of who we...
I am an undergraduate student taking an introductory neuroscience course and chose to read Synaptic Self to become familiar with brain mechanisms and the role they play in... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Sarah Reed
5.0 out of 5 stars A very insightful read
This is a wonderful and well-written book for anyone who is interested in neuroscience. All the concepts are well explained. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Elizabeth Marin
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More About the Author

Joseph LeDoux is Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science at New York University's Center for Neural Sciences. He is the author of Synaptic Self, The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life and coauthor (with Michael Gazzaniga) of The Integrated Mind.


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