Brains: How They Seem to Work

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FT Press, Jan 8, 2010 - Medical - 320 pages

For 50 years, the world’s most brilliant neuroscientists have struggled to understand how human brains really work. Today, says Dale Purves, the dominant research agenda may have taken us as far as it can--and neuroscientists may be approaching a paradigm shift.

In this highly personal book, Purves reveals how we got to this point and offers his notion of where neuroscience may be headed next. Purves guides you through a half-century of the most influential ideas in neuroscience and introduces the extraordinary scientists and physicians who created and tested them.

Purves offers a critical assessment of the paths that neuroscience research has taken, their successes and their limitations, and then introduces an alternative approach for thinking about brains. Building on new research on visual perception, he shows why common ideas about brain networks can’t be right and uncovers the factors that determine our subjective experience. The resulting insights offer a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.

• Why we need a better conception of what brains are trying to do and how they do it
Approaches to understanding the brain over the past several decades may be at an impasse

• The surprising lessons that can be learned from what we see
How complex neural processes owe more to trial-and-error experience than to logical principles

• Brains--and the people who think about them
Meet some of the extraordinary individuals who’ve shaped neuroscience

• The “ghost in the machine” problem
The ideas presented further undermine the concept of free will

 

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Contents

Chapter 1 Neuroscience circa 1960
1
Chapter 2 Neurobiology at Harvard
17
Chapter 3 Biophysics at University College
37
Chapter 4 Nerve cells versus brain systems
51
Chapter 5 Neural development
69
Chapter 6 Exploring brain systems
87
Hubel and Wiesel redux
105
Chapter 8 Visual perception
123
Chapter 11 Perceiving geometry
179
Chapter 12 Perceiving motion
201
Chapter 13 How brains seem to work
219
Suggested reading
235
Glossary
241
Illustration credits
275
Acknowledgments
281
About the author
283

Chapter 9 Perceiving color
143
Chapter 10 The organization of perceptual qualities
161

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About the author (2010)

Dale Purves is Professor of Neurobiology, Psychology and Neuroscience, and Philosophy at Duke University. He is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Medical School. Upon completion of an internship and assistant residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Purves was a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and subsequently in the Department of Biophysics at University College London. He joined the faculty at Washington University School of Medicine in 1973 where he was Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, and came to Duke in 1990 as the founding chair of the Department of Neurobiology in the School of Medicine. From 2003 to 2009 he was Director of Duke’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and is now Director of the Neuroscience and Behavioral Disorders Program of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine.

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