- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade; None edition (February 7, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0547508182
- ISBN-13: 978-0547508184
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 120 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #706,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are None Edition
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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
From the Inside Flap
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 brains neurons, which change slowly over time as we learn and grow. The connectome, as its called, is where our genetic inheritance intersects with our life experience. Its where nature meets nurture.
Seung introduces us to the dedicated researchers who are mapping the brains connections, neuron by neuron, synapse by synapse. It is a monumental undertakingthe scientific equivalent of climbing Mount Everestbut 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 brains wiring has never been seen clearly.
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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Part I starts by looking at the history of brain science. Phrenology, the study of the shape of the skull, is a largely discredited pseudoscience, but Seung teases us with the idea that phrenology at least promoted the idea that certain kinds of mental processing is associated with certain parts of the brain. Brain size has always been a historical fascination, but it is the structure that is important, not the size. Penfield's sensory homunculus maps specific sensory functions to specific parts of the brain. Phantom senses from amputated limbs can be found in this mapping.
Part II starts with the building blocks: neurons, how they function, how they grow, and most importantly how they connect. Seung's unconventional style leads us to the 'Jennifer Aniston neuron' which apparently we all have. It is a specific neuron that is triggered when we recognize Jennifer Aniston. Similar neurons exist for all other specific concepts that we have come to know. This brings him to an explanation of how memory works. Neurons are triggered or inhibited through their connections. The repeated firing of neurons at the same time cause neurons to create new synapses -- new connections that are the basis for long term memory. Learning is then simply the making of new connections between neurons. The way we perceive the world, and the way we remember what happened to us in the past, all comes from the pattern of connections between the neurons. The future of psychiatry is destined to be reduced to a new field called connectopathy: the ways that the connectome might be mis-wired.
However, connections are not simply binary on-off mechanisms. The connectome in changed through four different mechanisms which he calls the four R's of connectome change: reweighting, reconnection, rewiring, and regeneration.
Part IV shifts to more practical matters: how can we measure and study the connectome? He surveys the various means for solidifying the brain, slicing it, photographing, recognizing the structures, and tracing the path of nerves and how they are connected. For a worm with 302 neurons this has been done, but this is hardly a practical approach for humans-scale brains. MRI and other techniques allow studying living brains. It is all a bit too course grained for now, because while understanding the function of regions of the brain is important, it is the actual specific connections between specific neurons that form actual intelligence. Technology allow for increasingly fine observations, and increasingly massive data result sets, and it would appear that some day it may be possible to map your connectome.
Part V concludes the book with some interesting speculation that is sure to please the science fiction fans among us: can we achieve immortality through scientific means? First, can we freeze or pickle ourselves and be revived in the far future when death has been cured? Second, can we be uploaded to a software simulation of the brain. If the connectome can be fully traced in an individual, there is no reason that a simulation of the nerves would not produce a running facsimile of that individual with all their memories and skills. However, that copy of the person would be that: a copy, and not the original individual. It would make no sense to desire that a copy of ourselves achieves immortality, however some connectomes are wired to be insanely egocentric, and just might decide to do it anyway.
One tidy book brings us up to date on the state of neurology -- at least at a level that can be understood without a background in neurology. The book has to dispel a lot of myths and historical pseudoscience. It also makes it clear that we are still just at the beginning of the journey of understanding how the connectome achieves its most baffling result: a sense of consciousness.
The author breaks down the book into 5 sections tackling different ideas. He starts out discussing the size of brains and the weak correlations between intelligence and brain size. He gives evidence that there is a correlation of size of brain and with intelligence- but is careful to remind the reader that correlation and causation are not the same thing. In addition, ideas about the mapping of actions and skills to certain brain regions is discussed - ie speaking with one part of the brain hearing with another. From the first theories of mind, the author bridges to the second part of the book which is the theory of mind from the perspective of the neuron. The theory of mind from the perspective of the neuron is the more evolved theory and the one the author is currently doing his own research on. The author continues on to discuss nature and nurture and the way the environment impacts the formation of our brains. He brings up the examples of children brought up in the wild or isolated from human contact who are unable to change when they are discovered and tried to be incorporated in human society. In particular the development of the mind has environmental prerequisits that are life stage dependent. The author then discusses connections in the brain in greater detail and how they are formed, revitalized and change over time. Understanding how neural connections work and are maintained is critical for understanding the mind. The author ends with a discussion of cryogenics and the science of it. It is an interesting philosophical and practical discussion of the permanence of the mind and what is needed for it.
Connectome is very interesting and will excite the public about current fields of neuroscience. The author is in the process of trying to map the full connectome (connection of neurons) of rats. An enourmous feat given the exponentially growing complexity associated with the mapping of neurons. I enjoyed the book and think its a worthwile read, my only hesitation in giving it 5 stars it is light on science relative to such recent books as Kandel - In Search of Memory. It is more of a speculation on what the future of neuroscience holds than a discussion of what the author is specifically doing in detail. But that minor point aside, it is enjoyable and highly interesting.
I felt he could have made his points in 20 pages; I took only a half-page of notes on an almost 300 page book. I expected a more academic treatment, but even though he includes a lengthy bibliography, he makes no actual citations, so i can't easily reference the original sources. By background, Professor Seung is a theoretical physicist, but in "Connectome" he seems to be a non-practicing theoretical neuroscientist. Why should we care.