Posted: 15 Nov 2010 04:00 AM PST
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The brain is an endlessly fascinating topic for those who have one. And being a visual species, we humans are especially attracted to images of this intriguing organ. The combination of beauty and scientific value in both modern and antique brain imagery is hard to rival.
As a science journalist, I have had countless opportunities to view, study and appreciate pictures of the brain, but often they still astound me. And the collection of images in the new book Portraits of the Mind is truly impressive. Many of the them have never been seen by the public before.
Bringing together the range of imaging techniques that produce these pictures gives the reader a new appreciation of both the incredible amount of knowledge we've accumulated about the brain, and the enormous — often still mysterious — complexity of it.
Written by Carl Schoonover, a doctoral student in neurobiology at Columbia University who majored in philosophy as an undergrad, the book contains both scientific details about the brain and broader thinking about the mind, as it traces our understanding of these topics from the eleventh century to today. The mix of history, science and art is terrific.
One of our own science bloggers, Jonah Lehrer, wrote the forward to the book and had this to say about the appeal of the images:
It is not an accident. There is a grand tradition of scientists making art out of human anatomy, from the comic grotesqueries of Vesalius to the exquisite drawings of Cajal. The twenty-first century is no exception. Just because these images depend on expensive machines doesn't mean the scientist has become a passive observer, or no longer thinks about the aesthetics. Keats knew that truth exists in a tangled relationship with beauty, and nothing illustrates that poetic concept better than these scientific images. Their empirical power is entwined with their visual majesty.
See for yourself with some of my favorite images from the book on the following pages.
Human Skull Inscribed by a Phrenologist
According to the now-discredited theory of phrenology, bumps on the skull betray the volume of the brain areas beneath each one, granting insight into a subject's cognitive or moral strengths and weaknesses.
Image: Anonymous, 19th century. Photograph by Eszter Blahak/Semmelweis Museum.
Wired.com and publisher Abrams are teaming up to give away one free copy of Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, retail $35.
To enter the contest, share your thoughts on these images in the comments below. One randomly selected winner will be notified by e-mail. Deadline is 12:01 a.m. Pacific time, Nov. 17, 2010. Contest open to U.S. residents only.
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