A lucid account of brain research, our current knowledge, and problems yet to be solved.

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THE IDEA OF THE BRAIN

THE PAST AND FUTURE OF NEUROSCIENCE

A fresh history and tour d’ horizon of “the most complex object in the known universe.”

Although scientists still struggle to understand the brain, they know a great deal about it; Cobb, a professor of biological sciences, delivers an excellent overview. No one experiences his or her brain, but even the ancients were conscious of their heart, so deep thinkers, led by Aristotle, concluded that it governed human actions, perceptions, and emotions. Some Greeks experimented—on live animals; Cobb’s descriptions are not for the squeamish—but “they merely showed that the brain was complicated. Aristotle’s heart-centered view remained enormously influential, partly because of his immense prestige but above all because it corresponded to everyday experience.” Matters changed only with the scientific revolution, and Cobb writes a riveting account of four centuries of brain research that soon revealed its structure and made slower but steady progress describing its functions, which depend on complex brain cells, neurons, that communicate with each other through electrical signals but don’t actually touch. The author ends the “history” section and begins “present” in the mid-20th century. This may puzzle readers, but he has a point. “Since the 1950s,” he writes, “our ideas have been dominated by concepts that surged from biology into computing—feedback loops, information, codes and computation, but…some of the most brilliant and influential theoretical intuitions about how nervous systems might ‘compute’ have turned out to be completely wrong.” Although the computer metaphor is showing its age, the digital revolution has produced dazzling progress, allowing scientists to study individual neurons, localize brain activity in living subjects, and manipulate objects by thinking. Cobb concludes that this avalanche of new knowledge hasn’t brought us nearer the holy grail of brain research—a neural correlate of consciousness—or led to dramatic advances in treating mental illness or paralysis, but these will happen…eventually.

A lucid account of brain research, our current knowledge, and problems yet to be solved.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5416-4685-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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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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