Sunday, July 1, 2012

Connectome by Sebastian Seung *

The way your neurons are connected is important. If you find this idea non-obvious,  you might love Connectome by MIT Professor of Computational Neuroscience and Physics Sebastian Seung. On the other hand, if you think this idea is (as they say at MIT): intuitively obvious to the most casual observer, you might find this book hyperbolic, repetitive, and narcissistic.

Before casting any judgement, lets start with the positive. Professor Seung is at the forefront of brain research and his book reviews the current state of affairs covering experiments (researchers have identified a neuron that fires when the observer sees Jennifer Aniston), technology (50 nm microtomes), and breakthroughs (all connections in C elegans have been mapped). The book also place today,s science in context, reviewing all relevant history from both philosophical (what is the soul?) and scientific (history of microscopes) points of view.

If the book had stopped there, it might have been a nice little volume, but for unknown reasons, that wasn't enough. The book goes well beyond science and history. "With great passion and authority," the book pontificates on subjects are varied as mid reading, immortality, and computer intelligence, demonstrating what I think of as the Nobel fallacy --- the idea that winning a Nobel Prize qualifies one to speak on any subject "with great passion and authority."

While much of this volume is fascinating and informative, this is balanced by the remainder that seems redundant (the index lists 10 entries for Jennifer Aniston), pedantic (medial is defined as "close to the plane dividing the left and right ..."), or silly (Is there a God?). There must be better book on the state of neuroscience, if not, wait.

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