A Nobel Prize–winning neuroscientist’s probing investigation of what brain disorders can tell us about human nature
Eric R. Kandel, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his foundational research into memory storage in the brain, is one of the pioneers of modern brain science. His work continues to shape our understanding of how learning and memory work and to break down age-old barriers between the sciences and the arts.
In his seminal new book, The Disordered Mind, Kandel draws on a lifetime of pathbreaking research and the work of many other leading neuroscientists to take us on an unusual tour of the brain. He confronts one of the most difficult questions we face: How does our mind, our individual sense of self, emerge from the physical matter of the brain? The brain’s 86 billion neurons communicate with one another through very precise connections. But sometimes those connections are disrupted. The brain processes that give rise to our mind can become disordered, resulting in diseases such as autism, depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder. While these disruptions bring great suffering, they can also reveal the mysteries of how the brain produces our most fundamental experiences and capabilities—the very nature of what it means to be human. Studies of autism illuminate the neurological foundations of our social instincts; research into depression offers important insights on emotions and the integrity of the self; and paradigm-shifting work on addiction has led to a new understanding of the relationship between pleasure and willpower.
By studying disruptions to typical brain functioning and exploring their potential treatments, we will deepen our understanding of thought, feeling, behavior, memory, and creativity. Only then can we grapple with the big question of how billions of neurons generate consciousness itself.
Nobel Prize winning-neuroscientist Kandel (Reduction in Art and Brain Science) delves optimistically into the current state of the "new biology of mind," a sophisticated framework deriving from "the marriage of modern cognitive psychology and neuroscience." Kandel consolidates data and ideas from core advances, including genetic research that proves some biological basis for various psychiatric disorders, and imaging techniques that indicate the function of specific brain structures. Emphasizing that brain disorders can yield insights into normal cognitive functioning, he looks to autism for understanding the social brain, depression and bipolar disorders for understanding the emotional brain, schizophrenia for understanding decision making, dementia for understanding memory, and Parkinson's and Huntington's disease for understanding movement. His background as coauthor of the flagship textbook Principles of Neural Science is clear throughout, thanks to the highly accessible presentation, heavy on reader-friendly graphics and explanations of basics. Kandel's deep compassion for people is also evident, as when he discusses how understanding the biological basis for mental disorders might take them out of the realm of legal culpability. The result of his work is an easily comprehended, meticulous synthesis of current research into the biological grounding of the human mind. 77 color and b&w illus.