Brain and Visual Perception

Brain and Visual Perception : The Story of a 25-year Collaboration

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Scientists' understanding of two central problems in neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy has been greatly influenced by the work of David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel: What is it to see? This relates to the machinery that underlies visual perception, How do we acquire the brain's mechanisms for vision? This is the nature-nurture question as to whether the nerve connections responsible for vision are innate or whether they develop through experience in the early
life of an animal or human.

This is a book about the collaboration between Hubel and Wiesel, which began in 1958, lasted until about 1982, and led to a Nobel Prize in 1981. It opens with short autobiographies of both men, describes the state of the field when they started, and tells about the beginnings of their collaboration. It emphasizes the importance of various mentors in their lives, especially Stephen W. Kuffler, who opened up the field by studying the cat retina in 1950, and founded the department of
neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, where most of their work was done. The main part of the book consists of Hubel and Wiesel's most important publications. Each reprinted paper is preceded by a foreword that tells how they went about the research, what the difficulties and the pleasures were, and whether
they felt a paper was important and why. Each is also followed by an afterword describing how the paper was received and what developments have occurred since its publication. The reader learns things that are often absent from typical scientific publications, including whether the work was difficult, fun, personally rewarding, exhilarating, or just plain tedious. The book ends with a summing-up of the authors' view of the present state of the field.

This is much more than a collection of reprinted papers. Above all it tells the story of an unusual scientific collaboration that was hugely enjoyable and served to transform an entire branch of neurobiology. It will appeal to neuroscientists, vision scientists, biologists, psychologists, physicists, historians of science, and to their students and trainees, at all levels from high school on, as well as anyone else who is interested in the scientific process.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 738 pages
  • 183 x 259 x 41mm | 1,457g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • New
  • numerous halftones and line drawings
  • 0195176189
  • 9780195176186
  • 1,446,906

Table of contents

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Review Text

...charming and interesting autobiographical essays. Alva Noe, TLS
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Review quote

...charming and interesting autobiographical essays. * Alva Noe, TLS * Extremely important * Alva Noe, TLS * All in all this is an excellent book and helps to set the work of Hubel and Wiesel in the context of real people doing real science. It also helps to connect the papers together in an appropriate set of sequences for those starting in the area - how it would have helped to have it around when I first started trying to teach visual physiology to medical students * Physiology News, No 61 * The entire book is an inspiration to read. The original papers and the additional chapters are beautifully written - which means that they are stylistically elegant, free from jargon and cliche and, above all, devoid of the current, vulgar, craze for acronyms and abbreviations and of other devices that serve to make science even more inaccessible . . . Neuroscience should rejoice that, during a mere 25 years, its world was enriched not only by a wealth of
knowledge but also by new standards of evidence and elegance of methodology which have left a permanent imprint. * Brain, 128 * The book's glory is that the commentaries sandwiching each paper illuminate the workings of one of the most productive collaborations in the history of biology. Hubel and Wiesel describe the joy of mom-and-pop science where the collaborators do the work and weigh what to do next . . . the book brings their work all together - complete with the authors' retrospective evaluations of their work . . . a gem in the history of the field and a core resource. * Robert Wurtz in Science * . . . The entire book is an inspiration to read. The original papers and the additional chapters are beautifully written . . . Read today, some 50 years after the initial work was published, the papers still retain their freshness and their capacity to arouse wonder, not only at the way in which nature has elaborated such an impressive organ, but also at the tenacity and the powerful conceptual thinking that was behind their collected work . . . Neuroscience
should rejoice that, during a mere 25 years, its world was enriched not only by a wealth of knowledge but also by new standards of evidence and elegance of methodology which have left a permanent imprint. * Semir Zeki in Brain * Advance praise for Brain and Visual Perception: For those who came of age admiring the scientific adventures of Hubel and Wiesel, this book is an opportunity to look back in wonder. For those who came after, it will be an inspiration. This is a marvel of a book, written in David Hubel's disarmingly engaging voice, a must have, a must read. * Antonio Damasio, Neuroscientist and author of Descartes' Error and Looking for Spinoza * David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel's book describes the wonderful period in neurophysiology when they worked on the early mammalian visual system. I found it fascinating reading. * Francis Crick, Nobel Laureate and author of The Astonishing Hypothesis and What Mad Pursuit * A rare opportunity to peek into the minds of two giants of twentieth century science. Each of their classic papers reads like a Sherlock Holmes novel, but the accompanying commentaries and autobiographies, packed with witty, whimsical asides and Hubelisms, bring out the human side of science - reminding us that great science is a judicious blend of intuition, imagination and sheer tenacity rather than a cold rational process of the kind one usually associates
with Holmes. It's especially refreshing to see their low-tech approach in an era of high-tech 'big science' dominated by brain imaging and gee whiz neophrenology. * V S Ramachandran, BBC Reith Lecturer for 2003 and author of A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness * Hubel and Wiesel, as much as any other scientists, are responsible for our current view of the brain, its function, and how it is moulded by the environment. This book will provide students and established scientists alike insight into the roots of modern neuroscience, a view into one of the most productive collaborations in the field, and some of the best examples of scientific writing in the literature. * David Ferster, Professor of Neurobiology and Physiology, Northwestern University, USA * Beginning around 1960, David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel took the study of the brain and its development from the realm of philosophy to biology. These papers and the commentaries that accompany them put the reader inside the heads of the scientists who gave us our modern understanding of the cerebral cortex, often by asking the next logical question, but always with appreciation for the beauty of the system. * Michael P. Stryker, W.F. Ganong Professor of Physiology, University of California, San Francisco, USA *
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About David H. Hubel

David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel were both awarded the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Torsten Wiesel is the Secretary General of the Human Frontier Science Program and President of the International Brain Research Organization.
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