Well written and easily accessible to the non-technical reader, this volume explores the relationship(s) between the methodologies of modern neuroscience and the ways in which they may be used to ascertain/acquire new knowledge. We also learn about the author's concerns about the influence such knowledge may (or may not) have upon our understanding of the structure and function(s) of the living human brain, as it grows, changes, and develops over time. Presented largely as a review of neurobehavioural study techniques (and their results' implications), this reviewer was reminded of attempts at enhancing the `public understanding of science' (and neuroscience in particular) as seen earlier in the works of Rose (The Making of Memory), Blakemore's Mechanics of the Mind or any of a number of books by Susan Greenfield. Here, however, Taylor also shares her own personal experience of experimental neuroscience in introducing a much needed update of some of the more recently developed gadgets and tools for `measuring' (or at least inferring), the mental state correlates of functional brain activity in the awake behaving person.
Taylor's choice of title will perhaps appeal (and attract) a certain variety of conspiracy theorist to its pages, but such may be disappointed in what they find here. If wishing to learn how the various brain imaging tools work (are built and operated) this is a great sourcebook, but there are no new Manchurian Candidates here, or any remotely-controllable cyber-human hybrid Iron Man (or woman) to whet the appetite of futurist conspiricists. However, those reading between the lines can nonetheless create for themselves plenty of scenarios concerning new generations of black-ops agents emerging with advanced hemiprostheses with powerful brain activated myoelectrics, possibly now to be combined with pre-dispositional (and environmentally-triggerable) behaviours to be controlled by optogenetic code sequences implanted in their DNA !!
The mind reading (and writing) in Taylor's new book does little to extend her last (see my review of Brainwashing, Metapsy Rev 9 (36)), but does offer much to its reader as a primer on current thinking in mainstream (and cutting edge) neuroscience research. Having explored the moral and ethical imperatives of creating designer minds (think performance enhancing drugs, specialist education and training, or even deliberate genetic tinkering), followed by a quick history of brain anatomy in the early chapters, the real meat begins in the latter half of the book. Chapters 6 through10 each discuss a different brain imaging/activity recording technique, starting with the gamma-emmisions of positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), flashing back to EEG (and looking to its new future uses), and the newer and stranger quantum physics world of magnetoencephalograpgy (MEG). The last of the electromagnetic techniques explored is that of single- and multi-unit neuronal recording in experimental non-human species (the writer and reviewer's own most frequently-used technique), but the expected extensions of Penfield's (1960s) work, together with the implications of Delgado's work with behavior-modification following indwelling brain-implant stimulation are (surpisingly to me), missing from this book. Indeed, this latter omission together with recent work on deep brain stimulation (DBS) for real-time elevation of mood with depressive patients, would lead themselves well to some deeper (if speculative) discussion here of the potential `mission creep' (intel spin off) following the use of miniature brain implants now in clinical use - from experimental science to psychiatry - towards its use in influencing/supporting lifestyle choice(s), consumer marketing, fashionista apparel, or deliberate targeted behavior manipulation.
The last two technique chapters explore the explosion of knowledge derived from years of our using (and abusing) a variety of cognitive enhancers (aka smart-drugs), not that that we necessarily understand their mechanisms of action, even now. But mush IS now known with respect to their sites of action at the biochemical and neurosynaptic channel levels, their post-binding effects upon changing synaptic receptor numbers, protein synthesis, and genetic switching at the level of RNA transcription. Those readers less familiar with the molecular `wet' end of lab neuroscience will here learn about the amazing discoveries (and effective use of) channel rhodopsins, which may be used to switch `on' or `off' specific neuronal circuits in the brain (using lights of specific frequencies, and in real time !). The other of the two neural wet-ware chapters introduces the `knock-out' and `knock-in' technique of introducing direct neurogenetic effects in directly manipulating the RNA transcription process itself, together with its potential as a targeted gene-activation manipulant, using either experimentally- or environmentally-situated neuropharmacological agents (or even simply dietary element exposure !).
Though not billed as the book's main selling point, the current reviewer strongly recommends this volume to any reader wishing to know more about modern experimental neuroscience, for its excellent introduction to the use of a variety of brain imaging equipments (including how they operate). As such, this is an excellent source for the `how its done/how it works' questioner of neuroscientists' tool kits - but also provides a great resource in informing a better understanding of the limitations of the kinds of results and conclusions which can made available following the use of each technique, and for our becoming best able to interpret and describe brain function, and the mental lives we experience as a result of it.
Dr. Tony Dickinson
Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI, China). June, 2013.