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Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are Paperback – January 28, 2003
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
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"A detailed but very accessible journey into the world of circuits and synapses." —Science
"LeDoux's work...is surely the most accessible contemporary work for those interested in the brain's effect on personality." —Booklist
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 The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life and coauthor (with Michael Gazzaniga) of The Integrated Mind.
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So, this is a good book, but the thing to consider is it was written in 2003, is 14 years old and in the science of brain neuronal anatomy, there has been huge advances in scanning techniques, and a huge update on our knowledge about the brain, mind, and how they work. This book is foundational and spends time on who explored what and how they were wrong, which can get confusing when someone is trying to learn current knowledge. The negative aspects of this books age should not take away from the work itself. There is a great deal of knowledge in here. I would really like to read something current by LeDoux. I imagine so much has been learned since 2003. Worth reading.
teacher who shows you in plain language that you are basically a system of nerins and glials held together
by the microbridges called synapses. My only complaint is that on occasion Le Doux forgets that the mental
processes do not occur at the level of synapses but are functions of what my late colleague Donaald Hebb
called cell assemblies. This book ought to replace the many popular texts about the unbiological opinion
that the mind is an asemblage of computers running on programs that no one has devised. Le Doux's
friendly prose should help not only the psychology teachers but also the community of mentsl health
professionals, who have to repair the multilevel system that starts at the synapse but ends at the socially
embedded individual. "Synaptic Self" is so many-sided that I lost my copy of it. It must be lurking in either the biology, psychology or sociology shelf.
How patterns of neuronal synapses give rise to the self is the subject of the last subject of the chapter, and as expected, this chapter reveals a lot about the author's confidence in what he is presenting to the reader. He understands and admits (very early on in the book) that much remains to be known before a full answer is obtained. Before getting to this finale he takes the reader through a very interesting overview of many different topics in neuroscience, such as the ubiquitous `neuronal plasticity' and touches on the origin of consciousness, the latter topic of which is only just beginning to be classified as `real science.' All of these discussions are fascinating, particularly to those like this reviewer who are not experts in neuroscience but who desire to understand the current status of research in brain science as applied to questions not traditionally tackled by neuroscientists.
Readers with a background or interest in artificial intelligence will also find many topics of interest in this book, such as the role of domain-specific systems in the brain, how the brain constructs an interpretive framework, how it integrates different features of visual stimuli, and how decision-making occurs (the role of the executive functions). The ability of non-human machines to engage in `domain-general' and not just `domain-specific' reasoning is of great interest in the field of artificial intelligence and this book gives some insight into how human and animal brains are able to do this. It is interesting in this regard to learn that the author believes that such a domain-general or general-purpose system in the human brain depends greatly on long-term memory. This is really not surprising to hear of course, since domain-general reasoning requires the ability to integrate information from disparate sources and make comparisons to what is known. It would have been very interesting if the author had carried through this discussion to one that elaborated on the origin of curiosity in the human brain. Not much is known about this, and is again a topic of great interest to those researchers who are attempting to create non-human machines that exhibit curiosity.
As in most studies to date, information on how the brain works is derived from brains that are malfunctioning in some way, due to lesions or accidents, or from genetic factors. The author gives detailed discussion on the research that has been done in understanding the neuronal processes behind anxiety and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. Genetic factors due play a role he believes, but this role is more of a "bias" than a full-fledged determinism. Pharmacological intervention is discussed in this context also, with one interesting example being that of the ability of antidepressant medication to enhance synaptic plasticity.
To reiterate, there is much to be learned before one can say definitively that "we are our synapses", to paraphrase the author. But his book gives an excellent introduction to what kind of research is being done to substantiate this claim. With so much being done in neuroscience today, and with its impact being felt in new areas of research called `neuroethics' and `neuroeconomics', one can expect an exciting road ahead, and eagerly anticipate the author's next book.
My favorite chapter is one called "The Lost World," where the chapter begins with a flashback to the bombing in Centennial Olympic Park in 1996. LeDoux then goes to further explain the brains responses to stimuli in terms of fear, reward, and motivation. Specifically I find it interesting how the amygdala is no longer used after an initial experience of fear because the brain knows how to successfully avoid a specific danger. Furthermore, I find the explanations of the research of neuroscientists and Ledoux, himself, intriguing, giving special insight to the brilliant minds who can explain some of the awesome complexity of the nervous system.
This book is well written, Ledoux's language elevated and style, at times, artful. However, the content, as it relates to the complexity of the nervous system, certainly requires some preliminary knowledge on this subject, particularly the components of the nervous system as well as the anatomy of the brain. "Synaptic Self" is definitely a valuable book to read for anyone studying neuroscience and interested in how it correlates to several aspects of life and personhood.
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The author lost me at page 4 when he goes on to say that the brain is different at birth based on genetics.Read more