DEMYSTIFYING THE BRAIN
V. Srinivasa Chakravarthy
Popular media often tends to present a larger than life picture of the brain and tends to mystify the subject by use of excessive hyperbole. The complexity of the brain is used as a bad excuse to justify this mystification. A complex real-world system may look intimidating and incomprehensible only in its details, but could be simple and tractable in its organizational principles. Developments in computational neuroscience over the last three decades have unraveled several fundamental organizational principles of the brain. Illumined by these fundamental principles the immense complexity of the brain seems more comprehensible, less staggering. There is a need for a book that introduces this new view of the brain in terms of its information processing principles, in a manner accessible to the general reader.
This book aims to present the new view of the brain to a reader who is equipped with a general knowledge of science at a level that is a little above high school. Although the brain’s information processing principles are expressed in the language of mathematics, care is taken to use minimal mathematics in this book. The book is organized as follows.
The first chapter in the book, as it presents a brief history of ideas about brain, also introduces some of the key ideas and concepts related to the brain.
The second chapter sets out to understand the logic of brain’s anatomy. It takes the reader on a quick journey through the evolutionary stages in the brain and seeks to explain some of the broad stages in that development using the minimum wire principle.
The third chapter is an introduction to the neuron and mechanisms of the neuron’s electrical and chemical signaling.
The fourth chapter takes up the neuron model just introduced and presents a simple mathematical model of the same. Using this neuronal model the fourth chapter shows how to construct complex networks that can explain a variety of phenomena from psychology.
The fifth chapter narrates the story of memory. It begins with Lashley’s search for the engram. Passing by Pribram’s attempts to link holograms and memories, it presents Hopfield’s neural network model as a plausible model of memories in the brain. It then applies the Hopfield network concepts to explain the memory retrieval and storage operations in the hippocampus.
The sixth chapter is about brain maps, this unique feature of brain’s design wherein information is laid out in the form of two-dimensional maps.
The seventh chapter presents a history of theories of emotions and introduces some of the key neurobiological substrates of emotion processing.
The eighth chapter on language deals with the essential language circuits in the brain and describes how words are represented and produced. It does not discuss more advanced aspects of sentence level processing.
The last chapter takes up the conundrum of consciousness from neuroscience perspective. After briefly touching upon several philosophical approaches to the problem, it presents some elegant experimental approaches to this intriguing question, concluding with an outline of some of the contemporary neuroscientific theories of consciousness.
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