The Idea of the Brain (Hardcover)

The Past and Future of Neuroscience

By Matthew Cobb

Basic Books, 9781541646858, 496pp.

Publication Date: April 21, 2020

List Price: 32.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Description

A powerful examination of what we think we know about the brain and why -- despite technological advances -- the workings of our most essential organ remain a mystery.

For thousands of years, thinkers and scientists have tried to understand what the brain does. Yet, despite the astonishing discoveries of science, we still have only the vaguest idea of how the brain works. In The Idea of the Brain, scientist and historian Matthew Cobb traces how our conception of the brain has evolved over the centuries. Although it might seem to be a story of ever-increasing knowledge of biology, Cobb shows how our ideas about the brain have been shaped by each era's most significant technologies. Today we might think the brain is like a supercomputer. In the past, it has been compared to a telegraph, a telephone exchange, or some kind of hydraulic system. What will we think the brain is like tomorrow, when new technology arises? The result is an essential read for anyone interested in the complex processes that drive science and the forces that have shaped our marvelous brains.



About the Author

Matthew Cobb is a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Manchester, where he studies olfaction, insect behavior, and the history of science. He earned his PhD in psychology and genetics from the University of Sheffield. He is the author of five books: Life's Greatest Secret, Generation, The Resistance, Eleven Days in August, and Smell: A Very Short Introduction. He lives in England.


Praise For The Idea of the Brain: The Past and Future of Neuroscience

"In this engrossing book, Matthew Cobb deftly recounts the tortuous history of research on the brain, in which researchers pursue the hard problems of memory, consciousness, and volition, always limited by forced comparisons between human brains and the machines available at the time. A work of history and deep scholarship, but written in an engaging and lively way, The Idea of the Brain is optimistic about the recursive attempts of our brains to understand themselves, yet reminds us that the three most important words in science are, 'We don't know.'"—Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True

"Matthew Cobb weaves a fascinating story of the historical arc of neuroscience, from the initial discovery that the brain gives rise to our minds, to the state of the art in the manipulation and control of the brain."—Russell Poldrack, professor of psychology, Stanford University

"This exquisitely well-researched and thrilling book charts an epic high-level quest to understand our deepest selves. Its scale and scope is phenomenal and leaves us with a profound sense of wonder about science and humanity as well as the brain itself. Altogether a feast."—Daniel M. Davis, author of The Beautiful Cure

"A scholarly and wonderfully entertaining guide to the advances that have driven our knowledge of the brain, and the extraordinary people who have made them."—Chris Frith, emeritus professor of neuropsychology, University College London

"This is a book I wish I could have written, and one that I will be thinking about for a long time."—Maria Picciotto, professor of psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine.

"A masterful examination of the vast history of humans trying to figure
out how the brain does its tricks. The scope, sweep and insight are stunning."—Michael Gazzaniga, author of Who's In Charge?

"This fascinating history of our quest to understand the brain is deeply
researched and full of entertaining nuggets. Cobb is a reliably skeptical but
sympathetic guide to the murky world of mind exploration, offering plenty of
diverting stories along the way. You may be no closer to understanding your
brain after reading this, but your brain will be richer for it."—Gaia Vince, author of Transcendence

"Not
only is this a work of phenomenal erudition, but it has the rare distinction
among books on the brain of promoting no premature 'explanation' of how this
astonishingly complicated organ does its job. Instead, Cobb offers an honest
appraisal both of what we know and what is still a mystery. There is no better
primer to one of the most profound questions facing science today: how matter
creates thought and consciousness."—Philip Ball, author of Critical Mass

"This wonderful book is the perfect starting point for any student of neuroscience, or anyone interested in the big questions of who we are and the changing ways people have thought about them over time. It charts the history of the subject from before it was a subject, enlivened with the stories of colorful characters, their good ideas and bad ones, and the false starts, lucky breaks and clashes of ideas and egos that collectively drove our still evolving understanding of how the activity of the brain produces the mind."—Kevin Mitchell, author of Innate