Books. Books. Books. They are one of the most indulging ways to learn, to explore, to reflect. This post is the first of our Neuro Book Review Series, through which we hope to share with you some gripping literature about the brain. Today, we’re joined with Tara Menon Pattilachan, writer of her beautiful blog, Neurologic. In this book review, she introduces Michael Gazzaniga’s Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique. If you are interested in writing a book review for the Synapse Project, contact Megumi Sano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s not often that I write book reviews, but when I do, it means it’s worthwhile the read. I’ll get straight to the point– the book receives 9/10 points.
Gazzaniga goes beyond my expectations. I wasn’t thinking of much when I picked up the book from my library– the summary and the cover looked cool– so I just went with the flow, and decided to read it. It was my first neuroscience book that wasn’t purely educational, and at the time I was reading it, I was still a beginner to the neuroscience concepts anyways. Yet, somehow, I was able to understand everything effortlessly. The book was like relief to me– after reading all the thick neuroscience textbooks, it was difficult for me to actually apply my knowledge somewhere, or at least learn how they were applied. The book starts off with several questions, which pulls you in and almost puts you in the position of a fellow scientist alongside Gazzaniga. It may have been natural human curiosity, but I desperately wanted to know the answer to those puzzling questions. I truly wanted to know what made us human. Gazzaniga’s style of writing doesn’t disappoint, nor bore. He smoothly, yet skillfully, was able to weave together contemporary research findings in not only in neuroscience, but also in other related field such as psychology and psychiatry.
It might be better to have a basic and general understanding of who exactly the author, Michael S. Gazzaniga is. Gazzaniga is one of the leading researchers in cognitive neuroscience, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). His work is definitely credible, seeing that he has extensive research and work on human split-brain research, lateralization in the brain, and the communication between the cerebral hemispheres. Other than Human, he’s published The Social Brain, Nature’s Mind, and The Ethical Brain, among others. In summary, he’s an incredible writer, and a credible neuroscientist and psychologist.
Another interesting aspect I found about it was the fascinating study on split brain patients, which I’ve always had an interest about. Normally, as students, we (usually) don’t get the exposure to actual mental illnesses and patients, so this was a huge bonus on my part. For those of you who don’t know, split brain patients are people with the connections between their right and left cerebral hemispheres severed in order to alleviate the symptoms of what is usually severe epilepsy. Gazzaniga says that structural differences, in turn, reflect different cognitive functions, a thought that is explored often in the book. Perhaps, you’ll gain different and meaningful insight from the book. A huge concept covered is the correlation between intelligence and brain size. Our brains have been shrinking; the volume of our brain has decreased 150 cc during the course of human history. It’s impossible to count how many lab experiments and distinguished individuals Gazzaniga has included and referenced in his book, and he’s even sourced them all in order for you to explore potential interests. Eric Kandel, Henry Markan, James McGaugh, Steven Pinker, you name it. If you’re a bit of a history nerd like me, this book might be even more enjoyable. Homo sapiens is a unique species as we all know, and its uniqueness manifests in various physicals and behavioral ways, and the questions like the following are thoroughly explored. Are human beings just hard-wired ethical programming? What decides and governs ethics? When did altruism (self sacrifice) become an evolutionary structure despite not suiting the world of natural selection and competition? What caused humans to be such altruistic individuals? What truly makes us human?
— Tara Menon Pattilachan