A reading list for World Brain Day

Books and journals covering neuroscience, cognitive sciences, consciousness, and more

The brain is one of the most complicated structures in the human body, so it is no wonder that it continues to captivate scientists and general readers alike. On this World Brain Day, we’re pleased to highlight, in addition to two leading journals in the field, just a fraction of the works we’ve published that cover the brain and its many facets, including consciousnesslanguage production, and the mind-body connection

Who You Are: The Science of Connectedness by Michael J. Spivey

Who are you? Are you just a brain? A brain and a body? All the things you have done and the friends you have made? Many of us assume that who we really are is something deep inside us, an inner sanctuary that contains our true selves. In Who You Are, Michael Spivey argues that the opposite is true: that you are more than a brain, more than a brain-and-body, and more than all your assumptions about who you are. Rather than peeling layers away to reveal the inner you, Spivey traces who you are outward. You may already feel in your heart that something outside your body is actually part of you—a child, a place, a favorite book. Spivey confirms this intuition with scientific findings.

"Occasionally a book comes around that achieves something rare: it takes an age-old question like Who Am I? and teaches us something new. Spivey's book does just that—brilliantly, accessibly, originally, and convincingly." —Mahzarin R. Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Department of Psychology, Harvard University

Read an excerpt from the book on the MIT Press Reader

fMRI by Peter A. Bandettini

The discovery of functional MRI (fMRI) methodology in 1991 was a breakthrough in neuroscience research. This non-invasive, relatively high-speed, and high sensitivity method of mapping human brain activity enabled observation of subtle localized changes in blood flow associated with brain activity. Thousands of scientists around the world have not only embraced fMRI as a new and powerful method that complemented their ongoing studies but have also gone on to redirect their research around this revolutionary technique. This volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series offers an accessible introduction to the history, fundamental concepts, challenges, and controversies of fMRI, written by one of the pioneers in the field.

Changing Minds: How Aging Affects Language and How Language Affects Aging by Roger Kreuz and Richard Roberts

We acquire our native language, seemingly without effort, in infancy and early childhood. Language is our constant companion throughout our lifetime, even as we age. Indeed, compared with other aspects of cognition, language seems to be fairly resilient through the process of aging. In Changing Minds, Roger Kreuz and Richard Roberts examine how aging affects language—and how language affects aging. They explain the cognitive processes underlying our language ability, exploring in particular how changes in these processes lead to changes in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. They consider, among other things, the inability to produce a word that's on the tip of your tongue—and suggest that the increasing incidence of this with age may be the result of a surfeit of world knowledge. 

“Changing Minds provides a clear understanding of the connection between aging and language. Most importantly, it provides sets of practices that can help you harness the power of language to live longer and better." Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest

Read an excerpt from the book on the MIT Press Reader

A Synthesizing Mind: A Memoir from the Creator of Multiple Intelligences Theory by Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind was that rare publishing phenomenon—a mind-changer. Widely read by the general public as well as by educators, this influential book laid out Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. It debunked the primacy of the IQ test and inspired new approaches to education; entire curricula, schools, museums, and parents' guides were dedicated to the nurturing of the several intelligences. In A Synthesizing Mind, Gardner reflects on his intellectual development and his groundbreaking work, tracing his evolution from bookish child to eager college student to disengaged graduate student to Harvard professor.

"An insightful memoir from an eminent psychologist." Kirkus Reviews

Lessons from the Lobster: Eve Marder's Work in Neuroscience by Charlotte Nassim

Neuroscientist Eve Marder has spent forty years studying thirty neurons on the stomach of a lobster. Her focus on this tiny network of cells has yielded valuable insights into the much more complex workings of the human brain; she has become a leading voice in neuroscience. In Lessons from the Lobster, Charlotte Nassim describes Marder's work and its significance accessibly and engagingly, tracing the evolution of a supremely gifted scientist's ideas. Research that reaches the headlines often depends on technical fireworks, and especially on spectacular images. Marder's work seldom fits that pattern, but this book demonstrates that a brilliant scientist working carefully and thoughtfully can produce groundbreaking results.

"A nuanced portrait of an inspired scientist at work." Nature

The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness Is Widespread but Can't Be Computed by Christof Koch

Psychologists study which cognitive operations underpin a given conscious perception. Neuroscientists track the neural correlates of consciousness in the brain, the organ of the mind. But why the brain and not, say, the liver? How can the brain, three pounds of highly excitable matter, a piece of furniture in the universe, subject to the same laws of physics as any other piece, give rise to subjective experience? Koch argues that what is needed to answer these questions is a quantitative theory that starts with experience and proceeds to the brain. In The Feeling of Life Itself, Christof Koch offers a straightforward definition of consciousness as any subjective experience, from the most mundane to the most exalted—the feeling of being alive. Consciousness is not a special type of computation—it is not a clever hack. Consciousness is about being.

"Invigorating.... Koch tracks the 'neural footprints' of experience; swims off the wilder shores of integrated information theory; and speculates about the 'feeling of life itself' in ravens, bees and octopuses—along with related ethical concerns." —Nature

Read an excerpt from the book on the MIT Press Reader

The Mind–Body Problem by Jonathan Westphal

Philosophers from Descartes to Kripke have struggled with the glittering prize of modern and contemporary philosophy: the mind-body problem. The brain is physical. If the mind is physical, we cannot see how. If we cannot see how the mind is physical, we cannot see how it can interact with the body. And if the mind is not physical, it cannot interact with the body. Or so it seems. In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, the philosopher Jonathan Westphal examines the mind-body problem in detail, laying out the reasoning behind the solutions that have been offered in the past and presenting his own proposal. The sharp focus on the mind-body problem, a problem that is not about the self, or consciousness, or the soul, or anything other than the mind and the body, helps clarify both problem and solutions.

Read an excerpt from the book on the MIT Press Reader

Impossible Languages by Andrea Moro

Can there be such a thing as an impossible human language? A biologist could describe an impossible animal as one that goes against the physical laws of nature (entropy, for example, or gravity). Are there any such laws that constrain languages? In this book, Andrea Moro—a distinguished linguist and neuroscientist—investigates the possibility of impossible languages, searching, as he does so, for the indelible “fingerprint” of human language.

"Moro's sparkling overview of the conditions of possibility of language will entertain and instruct all who are perplexed by the mystery of human communication." —David Bellos, Professor of French and Italian and Comparative Literature, Princeton University, and author of Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything

Read an excerpt from the book on the MIT Press Reader

The Mind: Consciousness, Prediction, and the Brain by E. Bruce Goldstein

The mind encompasses everything we experience, and these experiences are created by the brain—often without our awareness. Experience is private; we can't know the minds of others. But we also don't know what is happening in our own minds. In this book, E. Bruce Goldstein offers an accessible and engaging account of the mind and its connection to the brain. He takes as his starting point two central questions—what is the mind? and what is consciousness?—and leads readers through topics that range from conceptions of the mind in popular culture to the wiring system of the brain.

"The accessibility, clear writing, and friendly tone of this text make it a good choice for undergraduate upper-level courses and seminars." Choice

The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience investigates brain-behavior interactions and promotes a lively interchange among the mind sciences. Contributions address both descriptions of function and underlying brain events and reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the field, covering developments in neuroscience, neuropsychology, and cognitive psychology.

Read a Q&A with JoCN’s Editor in Chief, Dr. Brad Postle

Open Mind

Open Mind provides a new venue for the highest quality, most innovative work in cognitive science, offering affordable open access publishing, concise and accessible articles, and quick turnaround times for authors. The journal covers the broad array of content areas within cognitive science, using approaches from cognitive psychology, computer science and mathematical psychology, cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology, comparative psychology and behavioral anthropology, decision sciences, and theoretical and experimental linguistics. These approaches are applicable to a broad range of content areas, including learning and memory, attention and object recognition, language processing and development, causal reasoning, judgment and decision making, philosophy of mind, and more.

Explore all of the MIT Press’s books on cognitive science