A brain in technicolor

What to read for Society for Neuroscience 2021

A selection of books and journals for the brain-minded

This year’s Society for Neuroscience annual conference has gone virtual, offering attendees worldwide the opportunity to meet and discuss new scholarship, scientific developments, theories, and more. We’re pleased to highlight several of our books and journals for the event—including an insider’s account of the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s, Giorgio Vallortigara’s latest work on the origins of knowledge, a selection of multidisciplinary journals in the field, and more. Learn more about these and additional titles below, and explore all of the MIT Press’s books on neuroscience.

Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World by Nina Kraus

Making sense of sound is one of the hardest jobs we ask our brains to do. In Of Sound Mind, Nina Kraus examines the partnership of sound and brain, showing for the first time that the processing of sound drives many of the brain’s core functions. Our hearing is always on—we can’t close our ears the way we close our eyes—and yet we can ignore sounds that are unimportant. We don’t just hear; we engage with sounds. Kraus explores what goes on in our brains when we hear a word—or a chord, or a meow, or a screech, and shows how our engagement with sound leaves a fundamental imprint on who we are. The sounds of our lives shape our brains, for better and for worse, and help us build the sonic world we live in.

“With lively analogies and diagrams, the book is accessible for those just getting their ‘ears’ wet, but has much to offer for musicians and researchers as well.” —Renée Fleming, soprano and arts and health advocate

How Not to Study a Disease: The Story of Alzheimer’s by Karl Herrup

For decades, some of our best and brightest medical scientists have dedicated themselves to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. What happened? Where is the cure? The biggest breakthroughs occurred twenty-five years ago, with little progress since. In How Not to Study a Disease, neurobiologist Karl Herrup explains why the Alzheimer’s discoveries of the 1990s didn’t bear fruit and maps a direction for future research. Herrup describes the research, explains what’s taking so long, and offers an approach for resetting future research. Herrup offers a unique insider’s perspective, describing the red flags that science ignored in the rush to find a cure. With How Not to Study a Disease, Herrup provides a roadmap that points us in a new direction in our journey to a cure for Alzheimer’s.

Read more about the book on the MIT Press blog: A close, critical eye on Alzheimer’s research

The Hidden Life of the Basal Ganglia: At the Base of Brain and Mind by Hagai Bergman

The main task of the basal ganglia—a group of subcortical nuclei, located at the base of the brain—is to optimize and execute our automatic behavior. In this book, Hagai Bergman analyzes the anatomy and physiology of the basal ganglia, discussing their relation to brain and behavior, to disorders and therapies, and even to moral values. Drawing on his forty years of studying the basal ganglia, Bergman presents new information on physiology and computational models, Parkinson’s disease and other ganglia-related disorders, and such therapies as deep brain stimulation.

“Hagai Bergman has written a splendid, very human, and witty text; this epic odyssey into the cradle of our motions and emotions is a tour de force of translational neuroscience.” —Marwan Hariz, University College London

Born Knowing: Imprinting and the Origins of Knowledge by Giorgio Vallortigara

Why do newborns show a preference for a face (or something that resembles a face) over a nonface-like object? Why do baby chicks prefer a moving object to an inanimate one? Neither baby human nor baby chick has had time to learn to like faces or movement. In Born Knowing, neuroscientist Giorgio Vallortigara argues that the mind is not a blank slate. Early behavior is biologically predisposed rather than learned, and this instinctive or innate behavior, Vallortigara says, is key to understanding the origins of knowledge. The origin of knowledge, Vallortigara argues, is the wisdom that humans and animals possess as basic brain equipment, the product of natural history rather than individual development.

“This book presents fascinating findings and a creative synthesis at the frontier of the study of nature and nurture. It’s a reassuring sign that this ancient topic, when it breaks free of black-and-white thinking, can show exciting scientific progress.” —Steven Pinker, Harvard University, author of How the Mind Works 

Read an excerpt from the book in the MIT Press Reader: Born Knowing: Baby Chicks and Baby Humans

Ketamine by Bita Moghaddam

Ketamine, approved in 2019 by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of depression, has been touted by scientists and media reports as something approaching a miracle cure. This volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series chronicles the ascent of a drug that has been around for fifty years—in previous incarnations, a Vietnam-era combat anesthetic and a popular club drug—that has now been reinvented as a treatment for depression. Bita Moghaddam, a leading researcher in neuropharmacology, explains the scientific history and the biology of ketamine, its clinical use, and its recently discovered antidepressant properties, for the nonspecialist reader.

Read/listen to a discussion with the author in the MIT Press Reader: The Many Lives of Ketamine

Vigor: Neuroeconomics of Movement Control by Reza Shadmehr and Alaa A. Ahmed

Why do we reflexively run toward people we love, but only walk toward others? In Vigor, Reza Shadmehr and Alaa Ahmed examine the link between how the brain assigns value to things and how it controls our movements. They find that brain regions thought to be principally involved in decision making also affect movement vigor—and that brain regions thought to be principally responsible for movement also bias patterns of decision making. Shadmehr and Ahmed speculate that in the future, technologies may be able to predict our personal preferences by measuring our movements; through the vigor with which we move, we unwittingly reveal one of our well-guarded secrets: how much we value the object of our attention.

“An exciting guide for those who want to understand from a computational and neural perspective how and why the vigor of our actions reveals so much about our inner thoughts.” —Daniel Wolpert, Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, Columbia University

Featured journals:

Neurobiology of Language

Neurobiology of Language provides a new venue for articles across a range of disciplines addressing the neurobiological basis of speech and language. Offering open access publishing, rigorous double-blind peer review, and quick turnaround times for authors, the journal aims to facilitate the replicability of experimental findings through modern open science requirements such as sharing of raw data and detailed methods.

Read “Neural Decoding Reveals Concurrent Phonemic and Subphonemic Representations of Speech Across Tasks,” by Sara D. Beach, Ola Ozernov-Palchik, Sidney C. May, Tracy M. Centanni, John D. E. Gabrieli, Dimitrios Pantazis in Neurobiology of Language

Network Neuroscience

Network Neuroscience features innovative scientific work that significantly advances our understanding of network organization and function in the brain across all scales, from molecules and neurons to circuits and systems. Positioned at the intersection of brain and network sciences, the journal covers empirical and computational studies that record, analyze or model relational data among elements of neurobiological systems, including neuronal signaling and information flow in circuits, patterns of functional connectivity recorded with electrophysiological or imaging methodology, studies of anatomical connections among neurons and brain regions, and interactions among biomolecules or genes. The journal aims to cover studies carried out in all neurobiological systems and all species, including humans.

Read more about Network Neuroscience on the blog: Network Neuroscience receives first impact factor

Neural Computation

Neural Computation disseminates important, multidisciplinary research in theory, modeling, computation, and statistics in neuroscience and in the design and construction of neurally inspired information processing systems. This field attracts psychologists, physicists, computer scientists, neuroscientists, and artificial intelligence investigators working on the neural systems underlying perception, emotion, cognition, and behavior, and artificial neural systems that have similar capabilities. Powerful new experimental technologies being developed by the BRAIN Initiative will produce large, complex data sets, and rigorous statistical analysis and theoretical insight will be essential for understanding what these data mean. Timely, short communications, full-length research articles, and reviews focus on advances in the field and cover all aspects of neural computation.

Read “Hidden Aspects of the Research ADOS Are Bound to Affect Autism Science” by Elizabeth B. Torres, Richa Rai, Sejal Mistry, Brenda Gupta in Neural Computation

Explore more of the MIT Press’s books on neuroscience