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Seven books on the fascinating human brain [reading list]

The human brain is often described as the most complex object in the known universe – we know so much, and yet so little, about the way it works. It’s no wonder then that the study of brain today encompasses an enormous range of topics, from abstract understanding of consciousness to microscopic exploration of billions of neurons. Brain Awareness Week takes place this year March 16-22. To mark the occasion, we’ve put together a list of books that explore the matter between your ears.

  1.  Birth of Intelligence Daeyeol Lee
    What is intelligence? Does a high level of biological intelligence require a complex brain? Can man-made machines be truly intelligent? In Birth of Intelligence, distinguished neuroscientist Daeyeol Lee tackles pressing issues that will be key to preparing for future society and its technology, including how the use of AI will impact our lives.
  2. How (not) to train the brain Amir Raz and Sheida Rabipour
    Can we improve cognitive performance through deliberate training? The short answer is yes, albeit with some caveats. In this book, the authors review data from hundreds of articles and provide an overarching account of the field, separating scientific evidence from publicity myth and guiding readers through how they should – and should not – train the brain.
  3. The Evolutionary Road to Human Memory Elisabeth A. Murray, Steven P. Wise, Mary K. L. Baldwin, and Kim S. Graham
    This book tells an intriguing story about how evolution shaped human memory. As our ancestors faced the problems and opportunities of their time, their brains developed new forms of memory that helped them gain an advantage in life. Sometime during human evolution, another new kind of memory emerged that ignited the human imagination, and empowered every individual, day upon day, to add new pages to the story of a life.
  4. Musical Illusions and Phantom Words Diana Deutsch  
    Why is perfect pitch so rare? Why do some people hallucinate music or speech? In this ground-breaking synthesis of art and science, Diana Deutsch, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of music, shows how illusions of music and speech—many of which she herself discovered—have fundamentally altered thinking about the brain.
  5. Sex, Lies, and Brain Scans Barbara J. Sahakian and Julia Gottwald
    Sex, Lies, and Brain Scans
     takes readers beyond the media headlines. The authors consider what the technique of fMRI entails, and important ethical questions these techniques raise. Should individuals applying for jobs be screened for unconscious racial bias? How far will we allow neuroscience to go? It is time to make up our minds.
  6. The Elephant in the Brain Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson
    Our brains are designed not just to hunt and gather, but also to help us get ahead socially, often via deception and self-deception. But while we may be self-interested schemers, we benefit by pretending otherwise. The less we know about our own ugly motives, the better – and thus we don’t like to talk or even think about the extent of our selfishness. This is “the elephant in the brain.”
  7. Your Brain on Food, Third Edition Gary L. Wenk
    This essential book vividly demonstrates how a little knowledge about the foods and drugs we eat can teach us a lot about how our brain functions. The intersection between brain science, drugs, food and our cultural and religious traditions is plainly illustrated in an entirely new light. Wenk tackles fundamental and fascinating questions, such as: Are some foods better to eat after brain injury?

These books showcase some fascinating areas of brain research. But we’ve still got a long way to go before most of our questions about this intricate organ are answered. A comprehensive understanding of the brain is especially critical to combating public health issues, including rising rates of dementia and psychiatric disorders. As such, the continuing progress of brain research will be beneficial to us all.

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