It’s been a while since I listed good sources to learn about neuroscience and the brain. I think anyone interested in consciousness and the mind should get a grounding in the basics. It’s a bit of work, but the introductory accounts aren’t anything unmanageable for someone who can parse philosophically dense material. And it enables you to recognize a lot of the dubious stuff out there for what it is.
John Dowling’s Understanding the Brain: From Cells to Behavior to Cognition, is an excellent introduction, and probably an easier read than anything mentioned below. Dowling’s book isn’t much of a reference, but after reading it, neuroscience Wikipedia becomes a pretty useful resource. Another good introduction, albeit one focused on the visual system, is Richard Masland’s We Know It When We See It.
The best sources of detailed information are introductory textbooks, such as Mark Bear’s excellent Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain, or Marie Banich and Rebecca Compton’s Cognitive Neuroscience. Unfortunately, these aren’t cheap, particularly Bear’s. You can usually find a used copy of one of the older editions for a reasonable price. (I actually started with a used copy of one of Bear’s older editions.) It won’t have the latest developments, but for an introduction it’ll get the job done. These two textbooks are often my go-to source when questions of neuroscience pop up in our discussions.
If paying outrageous prices for a textbook isn’t your speed, you don’t want to buy something dated, or you’d rather not read dense textbook material, another good source is Frank Amthor’s Neuroscience for Dummies. Don’t let the title fool you. The Dummies books are often pretty good. (Although they do sometimes put out stinkers.) This one will take you on a pretty comprehensive tour of the nervous system. There are some things I wished it covered in more detail, like the midbrain region, but again we’re talking introductory material here. Amthor also seems invested in a language centric version of consciousness, but he only mentions it in a few places, and it doesn’t detract from the book’s overall value. You can get a feel for the style in the book’s cheat sheet site.
After getting a good grounding, the trick is to stay somewhat up to date. Finding reputable sources of information on the brain can be a challenge. Two podcasts I’ve found to be excellent channels are Ginger Campbell’s Brain Science and Paul Middlebook’s Brain Inspired. Campbell’s podcast is more aimed at non-technical readers and includes interviews with many of the authors of books I’ve reviewed here on the blog. Middlebook often gets more into the technicalities, and explores the intersection between neuroscience and AI. If you really want to get hardcore, check out Grace Lindsay’s Unsupervised Thinking, which focuses on computational neuroscience, although it’s been on hiatus for a while now.
Finally, the blog, The Spike, is worth checking out. Unfortunately, it’s on Medium, which has gotten obnoxious lately about wanting paid subscribers, so perusing its archives might be a headache.
So, those are my sources in May, 2021. I think the only source left over from the last time I did this is Amthor’s book. The rest is all new, although I did allude to the textbooks last time. As I noted back then, this is a subject I’m always interested in learning 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.