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State of the Art Neuroscience
on December 28, 2013
Short Review: Interested in getting current with state of the art neuroscience and some philosophical discussions about our brain and consciousness? If so, read this approachable and easy-to-understand book!
Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist with a knack for explaining difficult concepts with simple analogies and clear descriptions. I've been a fan for some years now, and I thoroughly enjoyed Physics of the Impossible, Parallel Worlds, and Hyperspace. I was a bit surprised when I heard that Kaku was extending a bit outside his theoretical physics wheelhouse to write a book about the brain - but I'm very glad I decided to give this one a read.
After reading this book I feel like I'm much more up to date with where we currently stand when it comes to state-of-the-art neuroscience. Kaku stresses greatly the avalanche of modern neuroscience progress that was triggered by widespread use of MRI technology starting in the 90s, and this new information is forcing us to confront and redevelop longstanding ideas regarding our brains. A discussion of the various technological developments unlocking this new information leads into some philosophical discussion of consciousness and what makes us 'human'.
The bulk of the remainder of The Future of the Mind is focused on how the increase in brain-technology will affect the world, including discussions of telepathy, telekinesis, memory implants, memory recording, potential mental illness cures, brain enhancement, and mind reading. He also discusses different 'types' of consciousness including things like the consciousness of robots and the potential consciousness of alien life forms. The topics covered are very forward thinking, and there is a lot of time devoted to the various ways in which we will likely continue to stride forward in the future (such as the section on reverse engineering the brain). As you can tell this is a huge range of topics, and reading The Future of the Mind it sure sounds like we're just scraping the surface of potential topics with this book. Prepare to feel overwhelmed at how quickly brain science is marching along.
Kaku interviewed a huge number of experts in the field of neuroscience, and quotes from their conversations are features prominently throughout. A common pattern in the book is to reveal a shocking-but-true fact or experimental result about our brain accompanied by a metaphor and/or expert quote easing into an explanation that is understandable and clear. This approach works well in general, and keeps the pages turning. I had a hard time putting this book down, and brought it to work to finish during my lunch break. I have a habit of highlighting interesting/important passages whenever I read science books, and practically the entire book was highlighted by the time I was finished by this one!
It's hard to come up with any significant negatives for this review, but I have to mention that Kaku's constant movie references grew tiresome for me after a while. Many of the concepts in this book are introduced by way of "This happened in a movie and now it's happening FOR REAL!" I understand the benefits of this approach, but I could have used a bit more variety - I felt the technique was overused. Just a minor complaint, but something I noticed.