Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are
Author: Joseph Ledoux
Joseph Ledoux, author of the famous The emotional brain, has spent twenty years researching the neurology of what makes us who we are. In this book he explores what produces and determines our emotions, thoughts and motivations. Ledoux thinks the answers lie in the way the brain is hardwired (via synaptic junctions) between different neural ‘nets'. He looks at the pathways by which a person’s brain is ‘hardwired' and the interplay between this hardwiring and the individual’s unique life experiences, and how hardwiring and softwiring sculpt and mould the brain together. This neatly sidesteps the outmoded ‘nature/nurture' argument.
The sweep of the book is extensive as the author turns to philosophy, biology and psychology in his quest to understand the nature of ‘self'
He starts with a basic and readable explanation of how neurons communicate, how the brain develops and what are some of the key neuronal pathways. The theory claims that it is primarily the unique and individual synaptic connections in the brain that make us who we are.
Ledoux presents some fascinating case histories and highlights shortcomings of drug treatments for mental illness. He suggests some possible future paths for biological research into mental illness.
Traditionally the unconscious and the emotions have been the preserve of psychologists, philosophers and artists and writers. Ledoux has found ways to take the study of how the brain processes the emotions into the laboratory. The brain is a wonderful organ of communication, not just with other brains but with itself. It is the channels between cells that produce all brain function, including memory, perception, thinking and emotion.
Ledoux has brought mind processes, and not just brain processes, under the microscope and in so doing has retained all the mystery and awesome depth of the human mind. Indeed, after reading this book your appreciation of the staggering capacity and potential of the human brain will increase, just as your neuronal pathways multiply while learning.
Review by Mark Tyrrell