Mapping the Mind

Mapping the Mind, by Rita Carter, is a great overview of our current scientific understanding of the brain, targeting the amateur. It’s filled with attractive, easy-to-understand graphics.

However, although I obviously share the perspective that neuroscience is going to be a major element in the new understanding about reality that the human race is slowly arriving at, I don’t really think the field needs to be oversold the way she does in her cover copy:

The latest brain scans reveal our thoughts, moods and memories as clearly as an X-ray reveals our bones.

Then in the introduction (p. 6), she continues breathlessly:

The knowledge that brain mapping is delivering…is of immense…importance because it paves the way for us to recreate oursevles mentally in a way that has previously been described only in science fiction…brain mapping is providing the navigational tool required to control brain activity in a precise and radical way…all it will take is a little refinement of existing methods and techniques like drugs, surgery, electrical and magnetic manipulation and psychological intervention.

Oh, is that all.

Carter’s coveage of neurotheology is skimpy, limited (p. 13) to a mention of Persinger’s work, and concluding:

The fact that we seem to have a religious hot-spot wired into our brains does not necessarily prove that the spiritual dimension is merely the product of a particular flurry of electrical activity…Nevertheless, it is easy to see that being able to get your God Experience from a well-placed electrode could—at the very least—undermine the precious status such states are accorded by many religions. How believers will cope with what many might see as a threat to their faith is one of many interesting challenges that brain science will throw up in the coming millennium.

Note also that this book is very focused on imaging and macro brain structure. You’ll find very little here about synaptic behaviors or neurotransmitters.

Overall, though, this book is one of the best introductions to popular neuroscience I have seen. Recommended.

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