Monday, July 18, 2011

A new book on evolution and the brain: "Brain Bugs"

"Brain Bugs" by UCLA researcher Dean Buonomano is a new book exploring the ways our brains succeed and fail as they navigate the challenges of our modern world. Presented recently on NPR's Fresh Air, it seems like someone on their team is focusing on books that make neuroscience more accessible, which is exciting when the excerpts are as compelling as this one from the article:
Both declarative and nondeclarative forms of memory are divided into further subtypes, but I will focus primarily on a type of declarative memory, termed semantic memory, used to store most of our knowledge of meaning and facts, including that zebras live in Africa, Bacchus is the god of wine, or that if your host offers you Rocky Mountain oysters he is handing you bull testicles.
How exactly is this type of information stored in your brain? Few questions are more profound. Anyone who has witnessed the slow and inexorable vaporization of the very soul of someone with Alzheimer's disease appreciates that the essence of our character and memories are inextricably connected. For this reason the question of how memories are stored in the brain is one of the holy grails of neuroscience.
Memory is one of the most interesting areas of neuroscience to me given my work in education and my personal experience of powerlessly observing my aunt's early decline over the past 8 years as a result of an unknown form of a dementia-inducing neuromuscular disorder. Dr. Buonomano's research at UCLA focuses on how synaptic networks make computations, with a specific interest in how the brain perceives intervals of time. In "Brain Bugs", Buonomano addresses the wider topic of how evolution shaped our brain, and how the pace of evolutionary biological change has not kept pace with change in our modern world.

"Brain Bugs" is available in hardcover and in digital format (Kindle, iBooks).

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