• The Idea of the Brain

  • The Past and Future of Neuroscience
  • By: Matthew Cobb
  • Narrated by: Joe Jameson
  • Length: 14 hrs and 13 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (124 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

An "elegant", "engrossing" (Carol Tavris, Wall Street Journal) examination of what we think we know about the brain and why - despite technological advances - the workings of our most essential organ remain a mystery. 

"I cannot recommend this book strongly enough." (Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm)

For thousands of years, thinkers and scientists have tried to understand what the brain does. Yet, despite the astonishing discoveries of science, we still have only the vaguest idea of how the brain works. In The Idea of the Brain, scientist and historian Matthew Cobb traces how our conception of the brain has evolved over the centuries. Although it might seem to be a story of ever-increasing knowledge of biology, Cobb shows how our ideas about the brain have been shaped by each era's most significant technologies. Today we might think the brain is like a supercomputer. In the past, it has been compared to a telegraph, a telephone exchange, or some kind of hydraulic system. What will we think the brain is like tomorrow, when new technology arises? The result is an essential listen for anyone interested in the complex processes that drive science and the forces that have shaped our marvelous brains.

©2020 Matthew Cobb (P)2020 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"The story of the most complex object in the universe has never been told with greater clarity, insight, and wit. Charting the route to future discoveries, this is a masterpiece" (Adam Rutherford, author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived)

"This is a book I wish I could have written, and one that I will be thinking about for a long time." (Maria Picciotto, professor of psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine)

"A fresh history and tour d'horizon of 'the most complex object in the known universe.' Although scientists still struggle to understand the brain, they know a great deal about it; Cobb, a professor of biological sciences, delivers an excellent overview." (Kirkus Reviews)

What listeners say about The Idea of the Brain

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Informative and interesting but mispronunciation

This is an extremely important and interesting book tracing the epistemological history of conceptions of the brain from antiquity to the present. However, be prepared to be thrown out of deep listening repeatedly by unbelievably egregious mispronunciation of basic words. For example, the word “synapse” as you can imagine is used extremely frequently later in the book. The narrator hired to read this liberally self-styles the word to sound like perhaps the artist formerly known as “Prince” might take license with a word or symbol. However, this is not pop music, it’s an important science book. As a neuroscientist it was like fingernails on a blackboard to hear even the names of important scientists mispronounced. The absolute worst was “sine-aps” like he was referring to an application on your phone for sine-waves. It’s not spelled like that and grammar is important. It’s positively “syn” ful. Imagine that happening Over and over again like the increase in the rate of firing of the chalkboard ganglion detected by a friggin needle stuck in your brain. And that’s just one of the mispronunciations. Ya… Definitely an hours-long argument for getting the print book.

I wanted to point this out so you can make the right decision about it. An informed decision. Because the content is amazing and I highly recommend this book. I have noticed mispronunciation before but never wrote about it because of course it will happen from time to time—like with names. But not for central words in a book about brain science. There should be sound editing for audio books like there are print editors for print books.

I am especially incensed because I love this book and it’s so important. It deserves better.

9 people found this helpful

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A tour de force

Yes, the author has accomplished a tour de force about the mind. Must re-read/listen.

5 people found this helpful

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An informative overview of neuroscience history, biased and myopic view forward

A useful big step back to reassess neuroscience and whether we really know what we think we know. Also included: Many small, hypocritical, and narrow minded steps in what I think are the wrong directions for the current cutting edge and the future of neuroscience.

There are instances in which the author admits to not understanding an idea or hypothesis, and then goes on to dismiss the value of related work. That’s not very cool!

I do strongly recommend this book for physicists and cognitive neuroscientists. Just don’t believe everything you read or hear in the book.

3 people found this helpful

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Really enjoyed this book

It provided an interesting look at a very complex field. The recording itself was well performed and easy to listen to (I listened at 1.2 speed)

3 people found this helpful

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BRAIN SKEPTIC

Matthew Cobb is a skeptic. “The Idea of the Brain” cautions the public about claims of doctors, psychologists, chemists, neuroscientists, philosophers, and technologists who claim breakthrough understandings of the brain. Cobb explains the history of how, where, and why the brain creates thought and action. Even to this day in the 21st century, brain function remains a mystery to science and the general public. Cobb does not deny progress has been made but his history of “The Idea of the Brain” shows progress has been slow, often misleading, and sometimes flatly wrong.

Cobb implies present-day computer comparison to the brain is a dead end. He infers–when neuronal brain activity is understood, today’s comparison of computers to brains will be the equivalent of science recognizing the brain, not the heart, is the source of thought and action. Cobb’s implication is that with an understanding of neuronal brain function, artificial intelligence may, in the far future, create life and consciousness. The ramification of that thought is that human procreation may be a thing of the past.

3 people found this helpful

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I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!

I LOVE THIS BOOK!!! Best dive into the history and theory of neuroscience. :-) Excellent work.

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Very thought provoking

This book covers a large history and future of mankind's understanding of consciousness, and how it pertains to neuroscience, biology, & philosophy. There's no answers, just a lot of new concepts to explore and understand. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the science of consciousness.

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Really well researched

This is a great book if you want a very comprehensive view of how society has interpreted how we think throughout history. One of the things it drives home is how little we know today, and in some ways are just as far away from a real answer to things like where subjective experience arises from as our ancestors were thousands of years ago. Obviously great strides have been made towards understanding the chemistry of the brain at the most discrete levels, but understanding the wholistic nature of "how it works" at anything more than the "hand-wavey" level still eludes us. This book also highlights just how complex a problem that is.

Throughout history the brain has been decomposed to simplified models and metaphors, and throughout history, even now with our most complex computer models, we miss just how complicated it is. I loved how the author acknowledges this level of uncertainty rather than presenting the pat answers you see so often in other books about the workings of the brain. Answers that continue history's progression of failed metaphors.

The performance was precise and well articulated, although not so magnificent as to be considered outstanding (I am not sure how that could be achieved in a non-fiction book).

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Excellent Overview

Very understandable overview of both the history of the "idea of the brain" and the current state of our knowledge of brain function.

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Good Science

Excellent and engaging history of neuroscience, filled with facts and insights that are valuable to us now and tomorrow. More proof that science is dynamic, never static, and that even after all these years and all this effort, we know little about ourselves and the planet on which we dwell. A very good read.