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What does drug withdrawal have in common with a broken heart? Why is the enemy of memory not time, but other memories? How can a blind person learn to see with her tongue or a deaf person learn to hear with his skin? Why did many people in the 1980s mistakenly perceive book pages to be slightly red in colour? Why is the world’s best archer armless? Might we someday control a robot with our thoughts, just as we do our fingers and toes? Why do we dream at night, and what does that have to do with the rotation of the planet?
The answer to these questions is right behind our eyes. The greatest technology we have ever discovered on this planet is the three-pound organ carried around in the vault of the skull. This book is not simply about what the brain is, but what it does. The magic of the brain is not found in the parts it’s made of, but in the way those parts unceasingly re-weave themselves in an electric, living fabric. Surf the leading edge of neuroscience atop the anecdotes and metaphors that have made Eagleman one of the best scientific translators of our generation. Covering decades of research to the present day, Livewired also presents new discoveries from Eagleman’s own laboratory, from synaesthesia to dreaming to wearable neurotech devices that revolutionize how we think about the senses.
Neuroscientist Eagleman (The Brain) delivers an intellectually exhilarating look at neuroplasticity. In his view, the brain's ability to reconfigure connections between its different areas in response to feedback is "quite possibly the most gorgeous phenomenon in biology," and also holds exciting practical applications. Eagleman explains how the brain's "maps" of the body are not genetically precoded, but arrive "remarkably unfinished" at birth and are then molded by experience, and walks readers through the concept of cortical redeployment, in which the function of different brain areas is reallocated according to need for instance, in blind people, the visual cortex doesn't go unused, but is adapted for other purposes. Optimistically proposing that humanity can use neuroplasticity to its advantage, Eagleman describes the therapeutic field devoted to substituting one sense for another, and the potential for augmentation of existing senses (as has occurred with some cornea transplantees who found themselves suddenly able to see ultraviolet light). Finally, Eagleman addresses the implications for future tech innovations, observing that AI systems, despite their now "mindblowingly impressive" state, lack the brain's essential plasticity. Eagleman's skill as teacher, bold vision, and command of current research will make this superb work a curious reader's delight.