New books on the impact of neuroscience

 In book, book review, decision making, neuroeconomics, neuroenhancement, neuroethics, neuromarketing, social neuroscience, unconscious processes

Here’s a heads’ up for some recent/new books that might be of your interest.

First, I’m finished reading, and will soon provide a review of Pradeep’s “The buying brain“. Pradeep is the CEO of NeuroFocus Inc., a neuromarketing company, and as the description of the book says, he provides the secrets for selling to the subconscious mind:

Each year a trillion dollars is spent on communicating to and persuading the human brain, yet few understand how the brain really works—what’s attractive to it, how it decides what it likes and doesn’t like, and how it chooses to buy or not buy the infinite variety of products and services presented to it every day. Dr. A.K. Pradeep, in his new book THE BUYING BRAIN: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind (Wiley, August 18, 2010, $27.95), reveals a myriad of fascinating information that he and his cutting-edge team of neuromarketing experts at NeuroFocus have discovered and developed to help improve the effectiveness of every aspect of clients’ brands, products, packaging, in-store marketing, advertising, and entertainment content.

The book has already been received a positive review here, but my take will be somewhat more critical (as you may expect)


Just got an email of two other recent publications. One is “Beyond the Brains: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds” by Louise Barrett.

From the book page on this:

When a chimpanzee stockpiles rocks as weapons or when a frog sends out mating calls, we might easily assume these animals know their own motivations–that they use the same psychological mechanisms that we do. But as Beyond the Brain indicates, this is a dangerous assumption because animals have different evolutionary trajectories, ecological niches, and physical attributes. How do these differences influence animal thinking and behavior? Removing our human-centered spectacles, Louise Barrett investigates the mind and brain and offers an alternative approach for understanding animal and human cognition. Drawing on examples from animal behavior, comparative psychology, robotics, artificial life, developmental psychology, and cognitive science, Barrett provides remarkable new insights into how animals and humans depend on their bodies and environment–not just their brains–to behave intelligently.
Barrett begins with an overview of human cognitive adaptations and how these color our views of other species, brains, and minds. Considering when it is worth having a big brain–or indeed having a brain at all–she investigates exactly what brains are good at. Showing that the brain’s evolutionary function guides action in the world, she looks at how physical structure contributes to cognitive processes, and she demonstrates how these processes employ materials and resources in specific environments.
Arguing that thinking and behavior constitute a property of the whole organism, not just the brain, Beyond the Brain illustrates how the body, brain, and cognition are tied to the wider world.

Hmm, sounds “holistic” to me, but let’s see how this evolves once I get to read it


Then we have one of my favourite scientists, a scholar who has been essential in our understanding of brain asymmetry, modularity and how the mind works. Michael Corballis has published several books on these topics, many of which have been influential in the education of scientists like myself.

Corballis’ latest book is entitled “The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization“, and I expect it to be somewhat of an eye opener and challenge to current thinking:

The Recursive Mind challenges the commonly held notion that language is what makes us uniquely human. In this compelling book, Michael Corballis argues that what distinguishes us in the animal kingdom is our capacity for recursion: the ability to embed our thoughts within other thoughts. “I think, therefore I am,” is an example of recursive thought, because the thinker has inserted himself into his thought. Recursion enables us to conceive of our own minds and the minds of others. It also gives us the power of mental “time travel”–the ability to insert past experiences, or imagined future ones, into present consciousness.

Drawing on neuroscience, psychology, animal behavior, anthropology, and archaeology, Corballis demonstrates how these recursive structures led to the emergence of language and speech, which ultimately enabled us to share our thoughts, plan with others, and reshape our environment to better reflect our creative imaginations. He shows how the recursive mind was critical to survival in the harsh conditions of the Pleistocene epoch, and how it evolved to foster social cohesion. He traces how language itself adapted to recursive thinking, first through manual gestures, then later, with the emergence of Homo sapiens, vocally. Toolmaking and manufacture arose, and the application of recursive principles to these activities in turn led to the complexities of human civilization, the extinction of fellow large-brained hominins like the Neandertals, and our species’ supremacy over the physical world.


The book I’m currently reading is “Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality” by my favourite philosopher, Patricia Churchland.

Churchland has been highly influential on both the philosophy of mind and philosophical foundations of neuroscience, especially from her early book entitled “Neurophilosophy“, a beloved target for scholars with a strong antagonism for naturalism or reductionism. Suffice to say, this book made me decide for my career in neuroscience.

I interviewed Churchland for the Science & Consciousness Review in 2004, just after her release of “Brain-Wise“, a more popular and updated version of Neurophilosophy.

In Braintrust, Churchland tackles the difficult science of morality, and adds to the mix how a neurobiological can help us understand our moral perception and behaviour:

Progress in the neurosciences is profoundly changing our conception of ourselves. Contrary to time-honored intuition, the mind turns out to be a complex of brain functions. And contrary to the wishful thinking of some philosophers, there is no stemming the revolutionary impact that brain research will have on our understanding of how the mind works. Brain-Wise is the sequel to Patricia Smith Churchland’s Neurophilosophy, the book that launched a subfield. In a clear, conversational manner, this book examines old questions about the nature of the mind within the new framework of the brain sciences. What, it asks, is the neurobiological basis of consciousness, the self, and free choice? How does the brain learn about the external world and about its own introspective world? What can neurophilosophy tell us about the basis and significance of religious and moral experiences? Drawing on results from research at the neuronal, neurochemical, system, and whole-brain levels, the book gives an up-to-date perspective on the state of neurophilosophy–what we know, what we do not know, and where things may go from here.


Finally, a book very much related to the work I do in understanding biased behaviour and deviations rom rationality. Bazerman and Tenbrusel have just published the book “Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It “. It goes straight into the discussions I alluded to in my previous blog post: is it possible for us to debias decisions, improve our ways of making decisions and to alleviate decision making related disorders? I expect this book to provide new insights and ideas to this end:
When confronted with an ethical dilemma, most of us like to think we would stand up for our principles. But we are not as ethical as we think we are. In Blind Spots, leading business ethicists Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel examine the ways we overestimate our ability to do what is right and how we act unethically without meaning to. From the collapse of Enron and corruption in the tobacco industry, to sales of the defective Ford Pinto and the downfall of Bernard Madoff, the authors investigate the nature of ethical failures in the business world and beyond, and illustrate how we can become more ethical, bridging the gap between who we are and who we want to be.
Explaining why traditional approaches to ethics don’t work, the book considers how blind spots like ethical fading–the removal of ethics from the decision–making process–have led to tragedies and scandals such as the Challenger space shuttle disaster, steroid use in Major League Baseball, the crash in the financial markets, and the energy crisis. The authors demonstrate how ethical standards shift, how we neglect to notice and act on the unethical behavior of others, and how compliance initiatives can actually promote unethical behavior. Distinguishing our “should self” (the person who knows what is correct) from our “want self” (the person who ends up making decisions), the authors point out ethical sinkholes that create questionable actions.
Suggesting innovative individual and group tactics for improving human judgment, Blind Spots shows us how to secure a place for ethics in our workplaces, institutions, and daily lives
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