The Best of the Brain from Scientific American: Mind, Matter, and Tomorrow’s Brain (Edited by Floyd E. Bloom MD; Dana Press, 270 pp.) is a wide-ranging compilation of brain science articles from Scientific American and Scientific American Mind. The authors of the articles include both renowned scientists, like Nobelist Erik Kandel of Columbia University, and reporters/authors, like Stephen S. Hall. Throughout, though, the articles are accessible to the lay reader and for readers with a casual interest in brain science.
The book leads with Unleashing Creativity, an article by Ulrich Kraft that explores what neuroscientists have learned about creativity. Some of the findings are unexpected; Kraft describes the case of a California artist who, suffering from brain-damaging dementia, suddenly saw a dramatic increase in the creative powers. One conclusion scientists have reached after studying cases like this is that the left hemisphere of the brain tends to screen creative thoughts from the right hemisphere. Too much screening, and creativity is stifled; too little, and useless ideas can’t be eliminated. Creativity also requires topical knowledge and a detailed examination of the problem. While there’s no simple path to creative thinking for most of us, Kraft concludes by recommending that relaxing and stepping back from the problem are often helpful in letting the brain do its work.
There’s not much in the book directly relevant to neuromarketing, though a chapter by Mark Solms, titled Freud Returns, notes that Freud’s concept that “most mental proceses that determine out everyday thoughts, feelings, and volitions occur unconsciously” is increasingly supported by modern research findings.
The Best of the Brain is well-illustrated, with color images accompanying most chapters. One striking image shows a shape that is viewed by a macaque and the neural activity in the primate’s visual cortex; a set of concentric circles and radii in the viewed image appears as a ghostly network in the macaque’s brain. Other chapters use detailed renderings of brain structures, color photos, brain scans, and other visual aids to help the reader.
A chapter that some will find compelling and others repelling, The Quest for a Smart Pill, provides a detailed review of the state of the art of cognitive enhancement drugs. It’s clear we will soon be facing a host of ethical decisions on the acceptability of pharmaceuticals that can be used for enhancement rather than treatment.
There are too many topics to mention: neurogenesis, thought-controlled robots, brain-machine interfaces, addiction, and schizophrenia to name a few. There’s something in The Best of the Brain for just about everyone. For the reader who wants to get up to speed on the broad sweep of neuroscience in the new millennium, this book is the solution.