Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind
by Ben Shephard
Reviewed by Amy Ione
Headhunters: The Search for a Science of the Mind traces a slice of history that in turn introduces us to some of those drawn to study human psychology and mental health a few decades after Darwin’s theory of evolution took root. Four of these pioneers are the focus of this book: William Rivers, Grafton Elliot Smith, Charles Myers, and William McDougall. They met at Cambridge in the 1890s and Shephard links their lives more broadly through their efforts to study the brain as biological approaches were gaining increased leverage due to Darwin’s work. The author begins the book by placing us in that context:
“How, then, did the human brain evolve? Why did it evolve as it did? In the 1870s, modern experimental neuroscience began, using electricity to stimulate the nervous system of animals and microscopes to observe the nerve cells of humans. Within two decades, researchers had established the location of functions within the brain, unraveled the way that the nervous system automatically governs the body’s functions, and begun to discover how messages are sent between neurons and synapses. But these extraordinary advances only posed further questions — about human behavior; man’s relations to his fellow primates, and the human occupation of the earth. A generation of scientists went looking for answers” (p. 1).
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Study uses arrays of multicoloured disks to demonstrate colour perception in peripheral vision
Some common science-related misconceptions are particularly persistent, such as a duck’s quack doesn’t echo, or that we only use 10% of our brains.
Now new research from City University London is aiming to dispel a long-held misbelief relating to colour vision: that it is weak or non-existent in our periphery vision.
“This misconception about weak peripheral colour vision is completely incorrect,” said Professor Christopher Tyler, a visual neuroscientist at the university’s School of Optometry and Vision Science, who carried out the study.
“Although the number of cone photoreceptors is lower in the periphery than in the fovea, with about 4000 cones per mm2 throughout the peripheral retina compared to 200,000 in the central fovea, this is still plenty enough to give colour vision,” said Professor Tyler.
Continue reading article in OT (Optometry Today), 11 Nov 2015 : https://www.aop.org.uk/ot/science-and-vision/research/2015/11/11/research-debunks-misconceptions-around-peripheral-colour-vision
Read the full study in i-Perception: http://ipe.sagepub.com/content/6/6/2041669515613671.full.pdf
After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain
by Michael L. Anderson
Reviewed by Amy Ione, Director, The Diatrope Institute
After Phrenology by Michael L. Anderson is a unique and thought-provoking contribution to the current debate on how cognition interfaces with the environment and how we can move scientific studies of the brain forward. His theory of “neural reuse” is a proposal for how we may re-frame the debate and fills in some of the gaps that exist now when we communicate about the mind, the brain, and the environment. The basic idea is that, rather than seeing localized areas of brain activity as the way to define brain functionality, we should investigate the neural circuitry combinations that are employed to perform complex functions. Included in this notion is recognizing that our ways of doing things are both active and environmentally connected. For Anderson, “the Modern, Modular, cognitivist assumptions that have guided research during most of the last 50 years of cognitive neuroscience have not been borne out by the data this research produced” (p. 301-302) and, thus, this book is a call for a new kind of approach–neural reuse. He additionally offers a theoretical framework that claims to show how this design offers an evolutionarily informed framework, one that has the capacity to both explain brain functions and recognize our embeddedness in our environments.
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