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Hardcover | $32.00 Short | £26.95 | 248 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 44 color photos | April 2015 | ISBN: 9780262028981
eBook | $22.00 Short | April 2015 | ISBN: 9780262329019
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Trees of the Brain, Roots of the Mind


The human brain is often described as the most complex object in the universe. Tens of billions of nerve cells-tiny tree-like structures—make up a massive network with enormous computational power. In this book, Giorgio Ascoli reveals another aspect of the human brain: the stunning beauty of its cellular form. Doing so, he makes a provocative claim about the mind-brain relationship.

If each nerve cell enlarged a thousandfold looks like a tree, then a small region of the nervous system at the same magnified scale resembles a gigantic, fantastic forest. This structural majesty—illustrated throughout the book with extraordinary color images—hides the secrets behind the genesis of our mental states. Ascoli proposes that some of the most intriguing mysteries of the mind can be solved using the basic architectural principles of the brain. After an overview of the scientific and philosophical foundations of his argument, Ascoli links mental states with patterns of electrical activity in nerve cells, presents an emerging minority opinion of how the brain learns from experience, and unveils a radically new hypothesis of the mechanism determining what is learned, what isn’t, and why. Finally, considering these notions in the context of the cosmic diversity within and among brains, Ascoli offers a new perspective on the roots of individuality and humanity.

About the Author

Giorgio A. Ascoli is University Professor in the Molecular Neuroscience Department and founding Director of the Center for Neural Informatics, Structure, and Plasticity at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University.


“Ascoli has provided a very readable, insightful, often entertaining, and thought-provoking discussion of what we should know about axons and dendrites.”—PsycCRITIQUES
“This unusual book is a hybrid of neuroscience, art, and dendrology. It is reminiscent of the works of Victorian era philosopher-scientists in that it melds the beauty of the natural world with the complexity of the nervous system. Highly recommended.”—Choice


“This wide-ranging book combines a thorough exploration of the cellular organization of the brain with a deeply theoretical perspective on how anatomy and physiology together enable the emergence of complex mental states. Skillfully woven together, the result is a unique picture of the brain that is rooted in cellular anatomy and morphology and then set in motion by the dynamics of circuits and networks: an appealing synthesis by one of the leading thinkers in modern neuroscience.”
Olaf Sporns, Distinguished Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University; author of Networks of the Brain and Discovering the Human Connectome
“Branching from the tradition of William Calvin, Gerald Edelman, and Donald Hebb, Dr. Ascoli builds up a charmingly arboreal view of the brain as a self-aware forest emerging from selectively overlapping trees. His elegant and provocative mechanism for what can be learned and what cannot will engage and challenge neuroscientists while being comfortably intelligible to any reader.”
Daniel Gardner, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics and Head of the Laboratory of Neuroinformatics, Weill Cornell Medical College; editor of The Neurobiology of Neural Networks
“Branching patterns in nature have long fascinated scientists. In this captivating book, Giorgio Ascoli compares the rich variations of the dendritic trees of neurons to the complex branch organization in trees. The comparison is not only metaphorical—the author eloquently describes that branching is also both needed and useful. The book is a journey through the canopy of the brain jungle, guided by an expert who can see the forest for the trees.”
György Buzsáki, Biggs Professor of Neural Sciences, NYU Neuroscience Institute