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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!
This is a fascinating subject and wonderfully written book. The author jumps around effortlessly, linking evidence from case studies, anecdotes from history and current research - probably much in the way that the brain is linked in intricate and unexpected ways!

The best thing from my point of view is that the author doesn't offer a purely reductionist...
Published 21 months ago by CJ Savernake

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Different levels of reality
When the architecture and workings of the brain are described by a true story teller the subject can be captivating. I have heard tell for example of how Professor Peter Usherwood (a neurophysiologist) held students spell bound with his lectures twenty years or so ago. However, communicating complex topics in an interesting way without distortion is a rare talent...
Published 19 months ago by S. Thomas


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly readable and fascinating insight into the brain., 5 Feb 2013
By 
bomble "bomble" (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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Whatever else might be said about Connectome, Sebastian Seung can certainly produce readable and interesting lay-science. I am not the best judge of whether he was successful in, as he suggests in the acknowledgments, assuming no prior knowledge of the subject as I did complete a year of university Physiology many moons ago. That got me about 120 pages into the 280 page book without encountering much material that I would describe as 'new' but these chapters did a great job of dusting off the cobwebs of older learning (maybe reinforcing neural pathways might be more apt).

Then Seung presented the state of the art of connectome research and brain imaging methods before wrapping up with some flights of scientific fancy. The former section was fascinating; the latter somewhat less convincing given the somewhat flimsy grasp shown of associated problems in complexity and determinism (quantum uncertainty etc.).

And when you've finished there is an extensive notes section expanding on the details and background of the preceding chapters. I only wish these had been properly cross-referenced in the text so that I could have dipped into them more readily as I went along.

Ultimately this is a rewarding and not-overly difficult read that will give you a new-found wonder and respect for the wet-ware processor behind your eyes with its magnificently complex wiring and biochemical mechanism. It will also both refresh you with tales of experimental creativity and, perhaps, reveal just how little is really understood about the brain - even by such wonderful minds as described in these pages.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!, 22 Nov 2012
By 
CJ Savernake (UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a fascinating subject and wonderfully written book. The author jumps around effortlessly, linking evidence from case studies, anecdotes from history and current research - probably much in the way that the brain is linked in intricate and unexpected ways!

The best thing from my point of view is that the author doesn't offer a purely reductionist approach. This is excellent science, presented in an accessible way, but you also get the impression that he has kept an open mind, and is not looking to mould the evidence to fit pet theories.

Fantastic book and highly recommended reading - would also make a great a science documentary for TV!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating look at what's inside your head, 26 Oct 2012
By 
J. Morris "Josh" (London) - See all my reviews
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This book is a look at your 'connectome' - the sum of the connections of neurons and axons in your brain. Sebastian Seung writes with verve & flair as he writes in details about the structures of the brain, the evolution of our understanding (or lack thereof, as Seung puts it "I am a professor, not because of how much I know, but because I know how little I know"), the future of neuroscience in general and its potential applications.

This is a truly illuminating look at neurobiology & science for the layman, Seung makes unapproachable subjects easy to wrap your mind around with his witty and apt similes & metaphors that allow you to take what is essentially a very difficult & esoteric subject and understand it to some degree. The book covers all aspects of neuroscience, even down to the machinery used for imaging and analysis ("you wouldn't expect a caveman to learn how a clock works without a screwdriver") and the far-reaching future of transhumanists and 'uploaders'.

Not that this should matter either (don't judge a book by its cover!) but it is a beautiful hardcover. White with red text makes it look medical (see uploaded photo) and the quality is unparalleled - the inter-related Spark of Life about electricity in the human body is the inverse (from the same publishers -Allen Lane) red with white text. The two look fantastic together on any shelf. Whilst content is king, little touches like this compel me to buy the hardcover over the paperback.

A fascinating book about an intriguing subject laid out in a welcoming fashion. Well bibliographed and referenced - highly recommended!!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Inner Worlds, 3 May 2012
By 
Simon Laub (Aarhus, Denmark, Europe) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
We are all unique. And we all have unique brains.
According to Sebastian Seung: In our brains, uniqueness resides in the pattern of connections between the brain's neurons. Where the connectome is the entire collection of our brain's neuronal connections, the totality of how we are wired together.

In the first chapters I found Sebastian Seungs often simple, chatty, informal style
a bit simplistic and too much in the direction of popular science.
But, the book grew on me as I read on.
Actually, throughout the book Sebastian Seung gives us many brilliant insights.
Complex issues are made understandable by good examples and Seungs broad knowledge of the field.

If we are our neural connectome, it then follows that we can change ourselves by changing the connectome.
But, first we must know more about the connectome.
And, to find connectomes, we will have to create whole new machines that produce
clear images of neurons and synapses over a large field of view.

Seung is always careful to note that ''we don't know yet whether a connectome actually contains a person's memories, personality or intellect.
Testing these ideas will occupy neuroscientists for a very long time.''
Still, reading the book leaves you with the impression, that more new knowledge
about the connectome will eventually completely change how we think
about ourselves and how we should deal with the world.

In the final chapters Seung manages to sneak in some comments
about running complete brains as computer simulations.
I.e. would it be possible to extract the connectome from a real brain
and then run a simulation of it on a computer?

Here, Seung is not overly optimistic. Even if we had a full connectome described.
Running a good simulation is still difficult, problems like;
a) Insufficient neural modelling b) Extrasynaptic Interactions
c) Insufficient knowledge of the laws of nature.
Etc. might make it difficult to come up with realistic simulations.

Eventually, Seung believes that we will be able to
find connectomes quickly and cheaply. And, a lot of good concrete
treatment and knowledge will follow from this.

But, fully understanding the brain is a much broader goal though.
Which might take more than just knowing connectomes.
Still, reading Seungs book leaves one with the feeling
that knowing more about connectomes will be a good start.

-Simon
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3.0 out of 5 stars Different levels of reality, 10 Jan 2013
By 
S. Thomas - See all my reviews
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When the architecture and workings of the brain are described by a true story teller the subject can be captivating. I have heard tell for example of how Professor Peter Usherwood (a neurophysiologist) held students spell bound with his lectures twenty years or so ago. However, communicating complex topics in an interesting way without distortion is a rare talent.

The title of this book refers to the map of the brain network/wiring and this is not new science - bits of bits have been mapped. Seung seeks to make the subject 'popular science' and this book probably stems from his appearance at the TED conference a couple of years back. I imagine many would accept the underlying premise - that we are the product of our wiring - but Seung appears to suggest that it will be possible to join all the dots and with map in hand account for, and resolve, all manner of behavioural issues at the macro level. For added spice there is the suggestion that one could ultimately upload one's brain on to a computer.

Within the human brain there are about a hundred thousand million synapses (connection boxes) and most have several million connections at each side of the synaptic gap. I am sure there is plenty of useful information that can be obtained by mapping and scientists managed to map all of a particular nematode worm 25 years ago. However, I do feel as if I am being patronised ('National Enquirer' style) by the suggestion that mapping the human Connectome will deliver what Seung suggests.

There is a concept of 'different levels of reality'. This argues that whilst there is an unbreakable connection between the micro level (the wiring in this case) and subtle behaviour (why listening to Sibelius can invoke emotions) the distance between the two is so vast and complex that any cause and effect explanation becomes meaningless. If Seung finds it difficult to construct sentences in digestible form ('Once activity induces Hebbian synaptic plasticity, the information is retained by the connections between the neurons in a cell assembly or synaptic chain') I am not sure how he will get on explaining how a hundred thousand million connection boxes explain behaviour.

I am quite sure that Connectome research will be of great value and yield many answers but I felt that Seung oversold and, whilst parts of the book were well written, he didn't quite jump the synaptic gap between research and popular science. If anything, it seemed as if he took the science and added a bit too much spice to make it seem palatable.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Connectome, 14 Sep 2012
By 
Damaskcat (UK) - See all my reviews
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The human brain is an incredible achievement and even now in the twenty first century we are only just starting to understand it, how it works and what can go wrong with it. This interesting book describes how far the study of brains and how they work has developed.

It is written in an easy approachable style though I must admit some of the science was beyond my understanding and I did skip some of the more complex passages. For those who have science qualifications above A level standard I'm sure most, if not all of the text would be comprehensible.

Some of the later chapters discuss the future and how it might eventually be possible to thaw out bodies and brains which have been cryogenically preserved. The author also looks at plastination as a possible way of preserving brains by means of a reversible process.

There are comprehensive notes on each chapter which also give further references which can be followed up by the interested reader. There is a twenty page list of references as well as an index. The book is illustrated with many black and white illustrations and diagrams.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not practical but well written and informative, 28 Aug 2012
By 
D&D - See all my reviews
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An excellent introductory book for the layperson, this book is stylish, wide-ranging and well set out. Recommended for those interested in the theories of, and what has been learned about, the neural wiring in the human brain.

Not so interesting, unfortunately, for those who (like me) are hoping for some practical suggestions based on new scientific knowledge. That's the reason I've reduced stars to just 3 - I am highly pragmatic and books like this don't satisfy.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The connectome `makes us who we are'?, 5 July 2012
By 
Brian R. Martin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This book aims to describe theories of the totality of neuron connections, called the connectome and named by analogy with the genome, the organization of our genes. But unlike the genome, which is fixed from the moment of conception, the connectome changes as one's experiences change.

Seung starts with an outline of historical attempts to understand the brain, and to relate intelligence, and particular skills, to brain size, or increased size of definite areas of the brain. Phrenology is now discredited, but many of its ideas and nomenclature remain today, although size has no predictive power for individuals. Detailed mapping of the roles of individual areas of the brain has only come with the invention of MRI scanning, particularly functional MRI.

The mechanisms whereby neurons communicate with each other, across small junctions called synapses, and how the relative strengths of the connections are determined, is very complicated, involving both the flow of charged ions and chemical reactions, but Seung makes an excellent job of explaining clearly these crucial functions. He also discusses how neurons integrate simpler signals from `lower level' neurons in a network structure. These neutral networks are not fixed forever, and there is evidence that the connections can change, as can the criteria for communication between neurons, even in adult brains. The connections to other regions of the brain can also alter, as evidenced by the phenomenon of `phantom limbs'. The mechanisms whereby these changes happen and their significance are hotly disputed. Seung reviews the evidence for different viewpoints. Key questions are: `How are memories stored?' and `Why does our ability to remember things fluctuate? There are many ideas about memory storage, but no definitive theory yet exists.

A conclusive test of the hypothesis that the connectome `makes us who we are' would be to look directly for the existence of assemblies of cells and synaptic chains, i.e. to attempt to read memories from connectomes, although it would still be necessary to decode the readings. Seung discuss advances in constructing machines that can make images of connectomes and also for seeing them. The enormity of the problem becomes apparent when one considers that the human brain contains many billions of neurons. The goal remains a long way in the future, although Seung believes it will be solved, possibly by new computer architectures or nanoelectronics.

Although the field is at present at the stage of grappling with the technical problems, Seung naturally speculates about what benefits knowledge of connectomes might bring. In principle these are many and far-reaching and include: creating better maps of the brain, understanding how memories are stored, learning more about the basic causes of brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and finding new ways of treating them.

Finally, Seung turns to two of the most speculative ideas about the future: `cryonics', the deep freezing of bodies (or heads), in the hope that in the future it may be possible to unfreeze them and cure whatever it was that caused their death; and `uploading', the idea that one's entire connectome might be transferred to a computer where one could `live' for ever and, according to transhumanists, `humanity will make itself into God'. As barmy as these ideas may appear, they cannot logically be ruled out, although we still have to map the human connectome, so these are schemes definitely for the far distant future.

Seung, a rising star in computational neuroscience, obviously has a huge enthusiasm for his subject, and this, and his erudition, clearly come through in the book. He communicates his boundless optimism through beautifully clear English, with difficult concepts illustrated by clever analogies from everyday life, and there is little `dumbing down'. He also clearly differentiates between fact and hypothesis, and is prepared to admit that much of what he speculates about the role of the connectome may turn out to be wrong. The result is an unqualified success.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Connecting the dots..., 12 Sep 2012
By 
John "John75222" (Leeds, Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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The mapping of how neurons connect in the brain and the result of those connections is the driver behind this book and Seungs work. There are many billions of neurons and as a result many billions of combinations and these differences in combinations are what make us who we are. The theory is that if you understand how the brain functions and connects to make sense of its physical environment it may go some way to explain why some people develop, or are more susceptible to mental and/or neurological disorders and therefore provide individualised treatment that works. The sci-fi bit would be the transference of consciousness: i.e. If you understand how memory is stored you can transfer that part of your consciousness to another storage medium so that your memory/consciousness never dies - eternal life beckons.

However, back to the substance of the book and end to idle speculation, mapping is only now possible because the hardware to investigate what happens and how the brain responds to certain stimuli: i.e. MRI scanners are now available, and active areas are identifiable in real time in response to targetted stimuli.

Memory storage, for example, is probably best described in terms as a chemical version of a solid state flash memory card and the aim of understanding how memory works so it can be read and decoded needs to crack this storage issue. It's a question of how the chemical architecture works its functionality and its deconstruction. Do we always remember everything? Or do we have the ability to overwrite by forging new connections.

The big problem with the book for me comes in how do you express consciouness? And I'm not sure that conundrum will be necessarily solved by mapping the brain. The concept of conciousness for me transcends the simple (or rather, complicated) notion that if a connects to b to c to d; x, y, z should happen, and we end up back at the point where it is the rather large number of connections (billions) and the individualistic way those connections occur. That for me is what makes us unique.

Seungs' task of mapping every neuron and synaptic connection given the complexity and combinations is mind bogglingly difficult task and may not be ultimately achievable. It may only be possible to infer tasks to individual areas and never be possible to create a full 4D architectural image.

The book deals with a very complicated subject but does it in an accessible way, Seungs writing style is such that he seems to be aware that he's presenting you with some difficult science and concepts but for me the book doesn't descend into incomprehensible jargon.

Like Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged in Douglas Adams `Life the Universe and Everything' Seung appears to have chosen an almost impossible task to perform. I can only believe that his motto is the same as Wowbagger's when told the task is impossible: "A man can dream can't he?"
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking, informative, stylishly written, 23 Aug 2012
By 
David B "Piano David" (GOUROCK, Renfrewshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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The writer tackles a very deep subject (on which he is an expert) with style and vigour. Information about the operation of neurons and other nerves, and the organization of the brain is obviously highly scientific, and there is the risk of producing a work that is too dry and technical for the "lay" reader. Professor Seung avoids that risk extremely well. The writing, on such a technical subject, is very stylish and vivid, and full of helpful metaphors that bring the ideas to life. The text is well illustrated by photgraphs and diagrams. Such a book can never be "the last word" on the subject, because discovery continues, but this is a thought-provoking introduction to some of the current concepts in studying that most mysterious of objects, the human brain.
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Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are (Hardback) - Common
Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are (Hardback) - Common by By (author) Sebastian Seung (Hardcover - 2012)
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