Article cites advances in neuroscience; book examines common brain flaws

July 11, 2011
Neurology
Advances in brain science . . .
The Atlantic, July/August issue

Brain science has advanced to the point where “human behavior cannot be separated from human biology,” according to neuroscientist and writer David Eagleman in “The Brain on Trial” in the Atlantic. Eagleman begins with a description of Charles Whitman, the 1966 shooter at the University of Texas tower in Austin, who turned out to have a brain tumor that many think may have played a role in his crime. A more recent example is how the drug pramipexole, used to treat Parkinson’s disease, can lead to compulsive behaviors. Eagleman argues that as our understanding of the human brain improves, the criminal justice system will need to change. “We can build a legal system more deeply informed by science, in which we will continue to take criminals off the streets, but we will customize sentencing, leverage new opportunities for rehabilitation, and structure better incentives for good behavior.”

More neurology
. . . and some old glitches
“Brain Bugs” (W.W. Norton & Co., $25.95)

In “Brain Bugs,” another neuroscientist, Dean Buonomano, examines the many glitches of the human brain, from the harmless — forgetting someone’s name — to the tragic, such as when the faulty recall in eyewitness testimony lands an innocent person in prison. We learn that the brain is particularly ill-suited for number crunching: Most people can find a face in a crowd faster than they can multiply 8 times 7. In a chapter on temporal distortions, Buonomano explains why most people would take $100 now rather than $120 a month from now. “Brain Bugs” is full of fun factoids, optical illusions and humbling math problems.

Rachel Saslow

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