A bold look at one of the most exciting theories in neuroscience.

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THE MYTH OF MIRROR NEURONS

THE REAL NEUROSCIENCE OF COMMUNICATION AND COGNITION

The discovery of a class of brain cells called mirror neurons was embraced by an entire generation of scientists as the key to the neurological understanding of human social behaviors. But what if the fundamental assumption about these cells’ activity was wrong from the start?

The behavioral characteristic of mirror neurons that generated such excitement is this: Neurons fire when a subject reaches for an object as well as when a subject observes someone else reach for an object. This simple but profound feature, which suggests a relationship between knowledge of self-actions and an understanding of the intentions of others, generated multidisciplinary theories about all kinds of human behavior and thought, from language to empathy. Hickok (Cognitive Science/Univ. of California, Irvine) understood the hype—if these claims held up, the mirror neuron theory of “action understanding” could revolutionize our comprehension of some of the brain’s most compelling mysteries. However, the author was also wary, in part because the data that started the firestorm was the result of experiments on monkeys, not humans—a big leap to the nuanced human behaviors mirror neurons were purported to explain. When he dug deeper into the research, Hickok was not convinced that the hard evidence was there. He became a vocal critic of the cult of mirror neurons and began conducting his own research. The results are fascinating: New findings in behavioral science and neuroscience suggest mirror neurons have a vital role to play within a broader class of sensorimotor cells, which may lead to a new understanding of the brain within a computational theory of the mind. It's an inspiring example of experimental science at work: The initial theory of mirror neurons may have had a false start, but it inspired an even more complex and interesting story that is just beginning to unfold.

A bold look at one of the most exciting theories in neuroscience.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-08961-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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