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Archive for May, 2008

I’ve received two new books on the relationship between economics and the brain. I soon discovered that they are quite different. While the first book definitely springs out from an economic point of view, is dry and scientifically speaking to the point, the other is written as a popular science book with several allusions, anecdotes and with an emphasis on the story itself.

Unless you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about Peter Politser’s “Neuroeconomics” and Michael Shermer’s “The mind of the market“. Both books are extremely attractive to both newcomers to the field as well as well established scholars. (I wonder who is really a “neuroeconomist” today, or anybody would call themselves this).

You’ve guessed right: Michael Shermer is the witty and alluding popular science writer that writes a book with such an energy and enthusiasm that one may become a bit envious. By drawing on life experiences as diverse as his old graduate rat-project and working with and developing professional bikes, Shermer tells the story about economics and the relationship to psychology, evolution and the brain in the most wonderful and inspiring way. One thing I found remarkable was Shermer’s ability to tell these stories in a coherent way. His digressions into his experience with bicycles got me wondering what this book was really about — a self-biography? — but I soon realized that Shermer had other plans. The idea was to present how markets and products are shaped in a way analogous to darwininan evolution (although the analogy is not complete). In a way, I think Shermer may have made a new topic of study: the evolution of markets and products, much in the same way we have seen the debate about memetics (i.e., how ideas are formed and evolve with time and within communities).

Peter Politser’s contribution could easily be seen as a dried out academic paperwork that, despite its few 150 pages, would seem endless to get through. However, if you appreciate a sober approach to neuroeconomics, with less stress on story telling and more weight on facts, theories and formulas, your inner academic economist will certainly cheer all the way through the book. And it did so for me, too. politser provides an interesting take on neuroeconomics, with what I see as an approach from the economists view. Thus, one could ask for the treatment of more neuroscience, but let’s see if there will not be a sequel, or another book with more stress on the brain side of things.

So which book should you go for? If this is your first try at neuroeconomics, Shermer’s a safe try. If you want to go straight to the topic, Politser is the guy. But why not do both? They are actually important contributions and may serve as each other’s refreshments in a combination.

-Thomas

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A recent book review (subscription required) in Nature Neuroscience looks at two new textbooks in cognitive neuroscience. One of these is the recent Cognition, Brain and Consciousness, edited by Bernard Baars and Nicole Gage. And two co-authored chapters by yours truly on neuroimaging methods. Just having your book reviewed in NN is a good cause for celebration itself, but the review is quite positive. In particular, the reviewers, Clayton Curtis and Lila Davachi, say

The authors effectively use conscious experiences as a tool to connect the various chapters on perception, attention, memory and executive control. Overall, the organization of the book is driven by psychological principles instead of by the organization of the brain’s functions, which one may find refreshing. Moreover, the authors provide summaries that place existing data into theoretical frameworks and even offer some hypotheses to be tested by future research. Although these theories sometimes go beyond the data and sometimes lack the detail to provide insight into mechanisms, they are thought provoking and will surely inspire students. As a shortcoming, some of the chapters in this first edition textbook are at times uneven in content because too little evidence is offered or the evidence is unbalanced. Compared with Principles of Cognitive Neuroscience, Cognition, Brain and Consciousness places less emphasis on animal research and relies to a greater extent on human neuroimaging and neuropsychology.

I think that is a fair and good review.

-Thomas

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