Related to the last post, someone asked me where I got the information on the brain that I discussed there. After answering, it occurred to me that other people might be interested.
First, let me say that the examples I gave in that post about brain module functionality were not speculative. They are well established function points gathered through medical records going back to the 19th century. Those records describe people who suffered a stroke, accident, or other malady, and lost some cognitive functions which were then compared to damaged brain tissue observed in postmortem autopsies. The knowledge has been fine tuned in recent decades with increasingly sophisticated brain scanning technologies.
Anyway, anyone interested in the brain, the mind, and consciousness should seriously consider reading a book on basic neuroscience. There’s an appalling amount of bullshit out there, and a basic grounding allows you to pretty quickly recognize most of it. You don’t have to read these books straight through (I didn’t) but can learn a lot just reading the sections you’re curious about.
The first book I’d recommend would be ‘Neuroscience for Dummies‘, by Frank Amthor. I’ve had mixed success with the Dummies books. Some are excellent, others awful, but this one is pretty good, although it’s not perfect. It’s chief benefit is that it’s cheap compared to the other sources.
One imperfection is that the author is a bit opinionated on a few things. (He seems to have a strong need to believe that animals are not conscious, and defines “consciousness” in such a way as to clinch that conclusion.) He also has a habit of introducing terms without first defining them, which isn’t a giant burden if you’re reading the book electronically since you can just look up the word; if you’re reading in physically, I’d keep a tablet or laptop handy to look things up.
All that said, the neuroscience information in it is excellent. It comports with other sources such as neuroscience textbooks, and costs a lot less. This is the book I return to the most often when I want to refresh my memory on something. (Mainly because I have it electronically and can quickly pull it up.) By the way, the cheat sheet on the publisher site is worth checking out.
Another resource that I got good information from was ‘The Human Brain‘ by Rita Carter. It is loaded with gorgeous color diagrams. The edition I picked up several years ago included a DVD with a lot of additional imagery on it. If you’re more of a visual person, this might be a good book to get.
The drawbacks are that you can’t get it electronically (it would probably take away most of the book’s visual appeal anyway) and that it’s much pricier than the Dummies book.
Looking at the Amazon entry, it looks like a new edition came out in 2014. Given that my edition was published in 2009 and the Dummies book in 2011, I’m sorely tempted to order the new edition.
I’ve also gotten some good information from used neuroscience textbooks, but I can’t really recommend this avenue. First, even the used ones are outrageously expensive, and second, there seems to be a rule somewhere that textbooks must be as boring or difficult to read as possible.
Wikipedia articles can be a decent resource, although many tend to get overly technical and fringe stuff sometimes creep into them. Still, as long as you keep its limitations in mind, Wikipedia can be an excellent resource for filling in the cracks.
Other books that may be worth checking out after the ones above would be Michael Gazzaniga’s ‘Who’s In Charge?’, a book that looks at the neuroscience of free will, and Michael Graziano’s ‘Consciousness and the Social Brain’, a book that describes what I still think is the best theory of consciousness available right now.
This is a subject I’m always interested in knowing more about. If you’ve read any books on this stuff that you think are worth checking out, I’d love to hear about them.