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General Interest

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An Introduction with Readings
Edited by Martha J. Farah

Neuroscience increasingly allows us to explain, predict, and even control aspects of human behavior. The ethical issues that arise from these developments extend beyond the boundaries of conventional bioethics into philosophy of mind, psychology, theology, public policy, and the law. This broader set of concerns is the subject matter of neuroethics.

How Neural Circuits Weigh the Options

I will recklessly endeavor to scavenge materials from these various fields with the single aim of producing a coherent, but open-minded account of attention, or bias versus sensitivity, or how the activities of neurons allow us to decide one way or another that, with a faint echo of Hamlet in the background, something appears to be or not to be.—from The Anatomy of Bias.

Each edition of this classic reference has proved to be a benchmark in the developing field of cognitive neuroscience. The fourth edition of The Cognitive Neurosciences continues to chart new directions in the study of the biologic underpinnings of complex cognition—the relationship between the structural and physiological mechanisms of the nervous system and the psychological reality of the mind. The material in this edition is entirely new, with all chapters written specifically for it.

Drop something in front of a two-year-old, and she's likely to pick it up for you. This is not a learned behavior, psychologist Michael Tomasello argues. Through observations of young children in experiments he himself has designed, Tomasello shows that children are naturally--and uniquely--cooperative. Put through similar experiments, for example, apes demonstrate the ability to work together and share, but choose not to. As children grow, their almost reflexive desire to help--without expectation of reward--becomes shaped by culture. They become more aware of being a member of a group.

Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia

A person with synesthesia might feel the flavor of food on her fingertips, sense the letter “J” as shimmering magenta or the number “5” as emerald green, hear and taste her husband's voice as buttery golden brown. Synesthetes rarely talk about their peculiar sensory gift--believing either that everyone else senses the world exactly as they do, or that no one else does. Yet synesthesia occurs in one in twenty people, and is even more common among artists.

Zen and the Meditative Transformations of Consciousness

When neurology researcher James Austin began Zen training, he found that his medical education was inadequate. During the past three decades, he has been at the cutting edge of both Zen and neuroscience, constantly discovering new examples of how these two large fields each illuminate the other. Now, in Selfless Insight, Austin arrives at a fresh synthesis, one that invokes the latest brain research to explain the basis for meditative states and clarifies what Zen awakening implies for our understanding of consciousness.

Scientific Modeling of Emotional Intelligence from a Cultural Perspective

The now-popular idea that emotions have an intelligent core (and the reverse, that intelligence has an emotional core) comes from the neurosciences and psychology. Similarly, the fundamental sexualization of the brain—the new interest in "essential differences" in male and female brains and behaviors—is based on neuroscience research and neuroimages of emotions.

The Brain and the Enigma of Impossible Languages

In The Boundaries of Babel, Andrea Moro tells the story of an encounter between two cultures: contemporary theoretical linguistics and the cognitive neurosciences. The study of language within a biological context has been ongoing for more than fifty years. The development of neuroimaging technology offers new opportunities to enrich the "biolinguistic perspective" and extend it beyond an abstract framework for inquiry.

The publication of the second edition of this handbook testifies to the rapid evolution of developmental cognitive neuroscience as a distinct field. Brain imaging and recording technologies, along with well-defined behavioral tasks—-the essential methodological tools of cognitive neuroscience—are now being used to study development. Technological advances have yielded methods that can be safely used to study structure-function relations and their development in children's brains.


Conscious control enables human decision makers to override routines, to exercise willpower, to find innovative solutions, to learn by instruction, to decide collectively, and to justify their choices. These and many more advantages, however, come at a price: the ability to process information consciously is severely limited and conscious decision makers are liable to hundreds of biases. Measured against the norms of rational choice theory, conscious decision makers perform poorly.

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