An unprecedented look at the quest to unravel the mysteries of the human brain, The Future of the Brain takes readers to the absolute frontiers of science. Original essays by leading researchers such as Christof Koch, George Church, Olaf Sporns, and May-Britt and Edvard Moser describe the spectacular technological advances that will enable us to map the more than eighty-five billion neurons in the brain, as well as the challenges that lie ahead in understanding the anticipated deluge of data and the prospects for building working simulations of the human brain. A must-read for anyone trying to understand ambitious new research programs such as the Obama administration's BRAIN Initiative and the European Union's Human Brain Project, The Future of the Brain sheds light on the breathtaking implications of brain science for medicine, psychiatry, and even human consciousness itself.
Contributors include: Misha Ahrens, Ned Block, Matteo Carandini, George Church, John Donoghue, Chris Eliasmith, Simon Fisher, Mike Hawrylycz, Sean Hill, Christof Koch, Leah Krubitzer, Michel Maharbiz, Kevin Mitchell, Edvard Moser, May-Britt Moser, David Poeppel, Krishna Shenoy, Olaf Sporns, Anthony Zador.
In The Brain in Context, the bioethicist Jonathan D. Moreno and the neuroscientist Jay Schulkin provide an accessible and thought-provoking account of the evolution of neuroscience and the neuroscience of evolution. They emphasize that the brain is not an isolated organ. It extends into every part of the body and every aspect of human life. Understanding the brain requires studying the environmental, biological, chemical, genetic, and social factors that continue to shape it. Moreno and Schulkin describe today’s transformative devices, theories, and methods, including technologies like fMRI and optogenetics as well as massive whole-brain activity maps and the attempt to create a digital simulation of the brain. They show how theorizing about the brain and experimenting with it often go hand in hand, and they raise cautions about unintended consequences of technological interventions. The Brain in Context is a stimulating and even-handed assessment of the scope and limits of what we know about how we think.
Although science has made considerable progress in discovering the neural basis of cognitive processes, how consciousness arises remains elusive. In this book, Cyriel Pennartz analyzes which aspects of conscious experience can be peeled away to access its core: the “hardest” aspect, the relationship between brain processes and the subjective, qualitative nature of consciousness. Pennartz traces the problem back to its historical roots in the foundations of neuroscience and connects early ideas on sensory processing to contemporary computational neuroscience.
What can we learn from neural network models, and where do they fall short in bridging the gap between neural processes and conscious experience? Do neural models of cognition resemble inanimate systems, and how can this help us define requirements for conscious processing in the brain? These questions underlie Pennartz's examination of the brain's anatomy and neurophysiology. The perspective of his account is not limited to visual perception but broadened to include other sensory modalities and their integration. Formulating a representational theory of the neural basis of consciousness, Pennartz outlines properties that complex structures must express to process information consciously. This theoretical framework is constructed using empirical findings from neuropsychology and neuroscience as well as such theoretical arguments as the Cuneiform Room and the Wall Street Banker. Positing that qualitative experience is a multimodal and multilevel phenomenon at its very roots, Pennartz places this body of theory in the wider context of mind-brain philosophy, examining implications for our thinking about animal and robot consciousness.
How is consciousness created? When did it first appear on Earth, and how did it evolve? What constitutes consciousness, and which animals can be said to be sentient? In this book, Todd Feinberg and Jon Mallatt draw on recent scientific findings to answer these questions—and to tackle the most fundamental question about the nature of consciousness: how does the material brain create subjective experience?
After assembling a list of the biological and neurobiological features that seem responsible for consciousness, and considering the fossil record of evolution, Feinberg and Mallatt argue that consciousness appeared much earlier in evolutionary history than is commonly assumed. About 520 to 560 million years ago, they explain, the great “Cambrian explosion” of animal diversity produced the first complex brains, which were accompanied by the first appearance of consciousness; simple reflexive behaviors evolved into a unified inner world of subjective experiences. From this they deduce that all vertebrates are and have always been conscious—not just humans and other mammals, but also every fish, reptile, amphibian, and bird. Considering invertebrates, they find that arthropods (including insects and probably crustaceans) and cephalopods (including the octopus) meet many of the criteria for consciousness. The obvious and conventional wisdom–shattering implication is that consciousness evolved simultaneously but independently in the first vertebrates and possibly arthropods more than half a billion years ago. Combining evolutionary, neurobiological, and philosophical approaches allows Feinberg and Mallatt to offer an original solution to the “hard problem” of consciousness.