cover image Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain

Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain

David Eagleman. Pantheon, $28.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-307-90749-3

Neuroscientist Eagleman (The Brain) delivers an intellectually exhilarating look at neuroplasticity. In his view, the brain’s ability to reconfigure connections between its different areas in response to feedback is “quite possibly the most gorgeous phenomenon in biology,” and also holds exciting practical applications. Eagleman explains how the brain’s “maps” of the body are not genetically precoded, but arrive “remarkably unfinished” at birth and are then molded by experience, and walks readers through the concept of cortical redeployment, in which the function of different brain areas is reallocated according to need—for instance, in blind people, the visual cortex doesn’t go unused, but is adapted for other purposes. Optimistically proposing that humanity can use neuroplasticity to its advantage, Eagleman describes the therapeutic field devoted to substituting one sense for another, and the potential for augmentation of existing senses (as has occurred with some cornea transplantees who found themselves suddenly able to see ultraviolet light). Finally, Eagleman addresses the implications for future tech innovations, observing that AI systems, despite their now “mindblowingly impressive” state, lack the brain’s essential plasticity. Eagleman’s skill as teacher, bold vision, and command of current research will make this superb work a curious reader’s delight. (Aug.)