Human Brain

Rhythms of the Brain

by Gyorgy Buzsaki

The subject of electrical brain rhythms is very important and very confusing. Since scientists cannot yet measure the oscillations of individual neurons without implanted electrodes, they measure the composite oscillations of millions or billions of oscillating cells. For years partially successful attempts have made to associate specific rhythms like alpha, beta, gamma, and theta, to specific mental and brain functions.

This book, written by a leading neuroscientist in the field of brain oscillations, is brilliant, and extremely well written. It offers a comprehensive view of the latest science of brain oscillations in the cortex, a history of the field, and the best wide ranging analysis of how the rhythms might relate to aspects of consciousness. The author has a deep awareness of the broader philosophical and scientific issues involved in this subject.

The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us

by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

This is an excellent book about the vagaries of the mind, in the tradition of Daniel Schacters book, The Seven Sins of Memory.  The original “gorilla” experiment is now very famous, but the broad implications about the unconscious processes in our brain and mind triggered by experiments like this are only now being investigated. The book elaborates on six important illusions of the mind. The gorilla reflects the illusion of assuming the ability to see all that goes on. The research into the illusion of memory also demonstrates that eyewitness testimony can be very inaccurate, a finding that is now beginning to change how court systems operate. Other illusions include one where people think they know more than they do, and the common illusion about being able to infinitely multitask with multiple gadgets.  The book also describes the problem of proving causation when observing a sequence of events.  The media often make rapid assumptions of causation both in reporting incomplete scientific data, or causes of events in society and economics.   The authors outline limits on the exaggerated claims of the power of the mind.

The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers

This is now a classic book on the common failings of memory. Like the Invisible Gorilla it shows the limitations in every day mental function. It tells how memory fades and changes, the sin of transience. It observes that without attention, people become absent minded. Professor Schacter discusses the well-known failings of suggestibility, and bias. The other sins are blocking, misattribution, and persistence. This is a pioneering book that had broad implications for the changes that are now occurring in the courts concerning eyewitness testimony.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

by Daniel Kahnemann

Daniel Kahnemann won a Nobel Prize for describing the human beings’ less than rational decision-making. Here he outlines his observations of two prominent different mental decision-making systems. The first is unconscious and rapid, based upon emotions, intuition, and previous experience.  The second is slow, somewhat rational and difficult to focus. He outlines in detail many of the logical illusions and fallacies that are common in ordinary thinking, as well as the very prominent role of unconscious decisions in our lives.

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

One of the most important discoveries of the past generation of neuroscientists is the widespread and rapid change that occurs in the brain from childhood through old age. While new cells in adults are limited to only certain parts of the brain, all neurons are constantly building, changing and rebuilding connections to other neurons. This process includes daily pruning and creation of dendrites, almost instant increase and decrease of the receptor sites in the membrane, and constant changes in the rates of firing of neurons. The fact of neuroplasticity was resisted for many years but now is clearly known to be correct. Whatever is referred to as mental power, that is, thought, attention, learning, or mindfulness, changes the brain by constantly stimulating, strengthening and tearing down circuits. This book takes these changes seriously and describes many scientific approaches to the clinical use of neuroplasticity. The limits of the power of the mind to change the brain are unknown, but this book is an excellent start.

The Mind’s Eye

by Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks is the master neurological storyteller who has written many wonderful books. This latest book is perhaps the most personal and poignant.  He has always written about the amazing changes that the plasticity of the brain can bring about, but none so brilliantly as in this book, which focuses on difficulties with vision. His gift is to take impossible terms like prosopagnosia, alexia and agnosia and bring them to life with detailed stories. It is equivalent to understanding and experiencing the lives of animals that have entirely different sensory systems. A musician who can no longer read music but can perform from increased memory ability demonstrates extraordinary plasticity. Other examples include individuals who overcome the limitations of blindness utilizing increased tactile sense, increased visual imagery, and the rebounding of auditory clicks. One psychologist, blinded at age 21, had such increased memory that he was able to replace the gutters of his house.But, the most important part of this book is Dr. Sacks’ description of his own illness. His longtime inability to recognize faces was greatly complicated by a visual tumor that created other symptoms including inability to see on his left side.  Always the brilliant clinician he gives uniquely clear descriptions of his own very serious clinical states.This is one of the great books on neuroplasticity.

Books by Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has written many very good books on the mind and the brain. As a specialist, and innovator in the field of neuroscience and psychiatry as it relates to obsessive compulsive disorder, he has developed a new therapeutic approach that takes advantage of the power of the mind to tap the neuroplasticity of the brain. His books also encompass a broad understanding of important allied areas of philosophy, physics, and the practice of meditation. He traces the difficult years of research that led to the discovery and eventual acceptance of neuroplasticity in the brain. The fact of neuroplasticity is perhaps the most important development in neuroscience and was slowly and painfully proven with great pushback from the research establishment. He shows how intention, free will, and the power of mind can be harnessed for the good of patients.

The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights

This book is a very clear introduction to the latest neuroscience related to emotional regulation and intelligence. Dr. Goleman pioneered an expanded view of our thought process and here he describes the scientific basis of emotional intelligence in a readable short book.

Books by Antonio Damasio

Antonio Damasio has written a series of excellent books on the brain and mind. He has been a pioneering neuroscientist elaborating on the importance of the emotional brain. His books analyze a wide variety of clinical neurological problems and their implications concerning the general questions of consciousness. His theory of the brain includes different levels of consciousness, the proto, the core, the autobiographical, and extended. His books on philosophy, including criticism of Descartes’s dualism and agreement with Spinoza’s view of humans as not apart from material nature, emphasize the intertwining of the physical manifestations of emotions or feelings with our rational mental processes. His most recent book traces the existence of proto mental characteristics of mind throughout evolution culminating in complex awareness of the human brain. He discusses brain regions that might correspond to different definitions of the self, giving more credence than most to the importance of older brain structures such as the brain stem. His analysis is always based upon clinical neurological findings, and unlike many consciousness theorizers he emphasizes the fact that we are embedded in the body.

The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better

This is an extremely well written book that describes the unusual plasticity of the many body maps in the brain and the very elaborate interplay of the brain’s view of the body and our surroundings. It is a clear summary of the relevant neuroscience.

Books by Dr. V.S. Ramachandran

Dr. Ramachandran has pioneered in the understanding of phantom limb phenomenon. His demonstration of neuroplasticity to treat phantom limbs through tricking the brain into thinking the limb is normal is uniquely brilliant. His books are in the genre of Dr. Sacks with many case histories concerning unusual brain states, but with more basic neuroscience. His classic book is the Phantoms of the Brain where he first described his work with phantom limbs. His most recent book covers some of the same ground, updates current findings and is quite speculative about the future possibilities of neuroscience.

Books by Michael Gazzaniga

Michael Gazzaniga is a pioneer in neuroscience who invented the phrase “cognitive neuroscience”, and did original work with split brains as well as many other current seminal concepts. He has written many good books including some standard textbooks.  Perhaps his most important book is most recent: Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. Among scientists he has taken the broader, less popular view that while the brain enables the mind, mental activity cannot be just the activities of neurons and brains. He notes that viewing mind as emergent from the brain tells us nothing. Although he has fully described the modules of the brain in his previous books, here he notes that the mind cannot be considered as the property of one brain but rather the interaction of many brains. Because he has taken a prominent role in the question of how neuroscience (and neuro-pseudoscience) is used in legal matters, he understands the critical importance of people having responsibility for their actions.  Some current views of free will as an illusion of the brain could be used to undermine the appropriate prosecution of criminals. Here, one of the pre-eminent neuroscientists of this era emphasizes that people and mind are more than brains.

Other very good recent books by Professor Gazzaniga include: The Ethical Brain: The Science of Our Moral Dilemmas (P.S.), Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique and Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind (Third Edition)

The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach

Professor Koch attempts to find the NCC, or the neural correlate of consciousness.  He gives a very detailed, informative and well-written description of the visual system as it relates to issues of consciousness. He describes many regions of the brain relating to the search for the NCC. It is an excellent introduction to this entire area of neuroscience.

Networks of the Brain

by Olaf Sporns

This book is an extremely detailed look at the function of the brain networks and how this monumental complexity might be understood.  Olaf Sporns emphasizes how the brain can be viewed from multiple scales, and that all of these levels are important. The brain has local complexity in regions and then long-range connections with other levels of complexity.  He discusses the need for both order and disorder, and for segmentation and integration. He considers whether the mind emerges from the complexity of the networks. His most recent research, since this book, has shown that while there are both complex local networks and complex long-range networks, many of the centers actually do both, which further confuses the quest for an understanding of the unity of experience.

Handbook of Brain Microcircuits

by Gordon Shepherd MD DPhil and Sten Grillner MD

This is an excellent summary of what could be called the currently known “modules” of the brain. I use that term generally, understanding that in Dr. Sporns book it is shown that many different levels of connections are all important for any complex function. It is a good reference for any discussion about the details of what we know about how the brain works.

The Volitional Brain: Towards a Neuroscience of Free Will

by Anthony Freeman, Benjamin Libet and Keith Sutherland

Benjamin Libet contributed to the notion that there is no free will by finding that 200 milliseconds before we act the unconscious brain displays a signal of the future action.  He is the editor of this volume of essays where he tries to set the record straight about his view that although the unconscious may start the process, there is still a conscious veto power that does leave open the notion of free will.

The Character of Consciousness (Philosophy of Mind)

David Chalmers is the philosopher who first used the term “the hard problem” to describe the problem of explaining subjective experience.  He also coined the term the “extended mind”.  This book is an updated version of his book from 1996 The Conscious Mind, In Search of a fundamental theory. As a philosopher, not strictly a neuroscientist, he is able to discuss non-reductionist, non-materialist views without losing his vocation. Chalmers is not convinced neural correlates will explain consciousness.  His theories incorporate the connection of information in the physical universe and the human mind, with the possibility that consciousness is a property of the universe.

Cognitive Biology: Dealing with Information from Bacteria to Minds

Professor Gennaro Auletta synthesizes neuroscience, cognitive science, philosophy, quantum mechanics, information theory and more in an elaborate study of how the brain functions, and what it has to do with information in the universe. This 800-page book filled with basic science is a tremendous resource in understanding perception, and brain function.

Books on the evolution of the human brain

Many books attempt to explain how and why the human brain developed.  One group of books explains the latest science including the neuro-anatomy and fetal development.  Some of these books detail interspecies comparisons with other highly developed creatures like primates, whales, dolphins, and elephants. Other books propose a theory as to why the human brain has developed as it has. In truth, we don’t know exactly how or why the human brain grew from previous types of brains while dramatically improving its capacities.

The book by Lieberman, The Evolution of the Human Head, has great detail about the structure and development of the brain; in addition, it describes the evolution of the surrounding sensory organs and skull. It is an excellent summary of all the scientific data available. The book by the neuropsychologist Dr. Stiles, Fundamentals of Brain Development, gives an excellent description of how the human brain develops from the fetus.  It also tackles questions of how nurture versus genes could affect various aspects of the development.  The Allen book, The Lives of the Human Brain goes into detail about possible effects of feeding, language and other possible factors in the rapid evolution of the brain.  The book by Lynch and Granger, Big Brain, has wide ranging views from allied fields as well as very good descriptions of the anatomical evolution.  It covers many controversies such as about the importance, or lack of importance, of big brains. Their preferred theory is that the size was determined by the development of walking allowing a bigger pelvis and bigger babies brains.

Books by Raymond Tallis

Raymond Tallis has written many brilliant books, so it is difficult to know where to start reading. He has a broad view of neuroscience, which is necessary in an age when the media and many scientists exaggerate what we know about the brain and the mind.  While describing in masterful detail the wonders of the functions of the body, mind and brain in several of his books, he emphasizes that we do not have a scientific explanation for personal subjective experience, and it is quite possible, that we might never have one. His views run against the widespread assumptions that brain scientists will eventually fully describe how molecules create mind and build robots with human level intelligence. It is certainly appropriate for neuroscientists to be a little more humble, and many of the great ones are. His books describing the human being such as Michelangelo’s Finger: An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence, The Kingdom of Infinite Space: A Portrait of Your Head, and The Hand: A Philosophical Inquiry into Human Being are magical.