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Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where…

Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where Things Are

by Jennifer M. Groh

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A lot of this book felt like "review"--I would have cut 15 or 20% of it--but it is a cool concept to integrate all of these different pieces of research into one description of our sense of space. ( )
  chellerystick | Jun 16, 2015 |
If you have the chance to take Prof. Groh's Coursera course on the same topic and read the book with the course there is the potential for real intellectual synergy. Aspects of the book are illuminated in the visuals and even video of the course, and aspects of the course are amplified in the text.
This book is an outstanding pedagogic accomplishment. Neuroscience is hard because there are so many aspects of the brain to be grasped at the same time. In this book Groh focuses on two basic systems, vision and hearing, and develops them from the ground up. She selects enough detail to establish the neuroscientific facts from, e.g., the retina and the mechanisms of the inner ear, and then constructs explanations for how vision and hearing work at different levels of the brain, how they work together, and some of the conceptual issues that are in play when trying to understand how, for example, the auditory frame of reference can be translated into the visual frame of reference. The explanations for how these systems work provides the grounding for more advanced topics to come.
Once some of the mechanisms and some of the workings of these basic systems have been established, she builds on these to talk about how spatial processing works in conjunction with memory--and illustrates memory at four different temporal scales using four different mechanisms.
Finally, from an explicitly conjectural perspective, she explores some ways that some aspects of abstract thought can be grounded on the earlier explanations of functional behavior based on sensory processing.
It's too bad that cognitive science as a whole has not reached the level of authoritative explanation that Prof. Groh exhibits in the first nine chapters, for then the human race would actually understand how we arrive at such abstractions as money or democracy. As it is, the best we can do is speculate and then seek out the best evidence for our ideas. This she does, with some interesting studies and references.
In a nutshell, the thesis she put forward in Ch. 10 is that how the brain accomplishes spatial processing carries over into how the brain accomplishes some kinds of abstract thought. I have to say that had I encountered this thesis prior to reading the book I would (a) have been unable to come up with a compelling sense of what "spatial processing" is, and so would have simply generalized it to "cognitive processing," which I *now* realize is far too general to be of much use; and (b) have been skeptical, because there is no obvious way that the symbolic processing that is the focus of my research can be tied into spatial processing (whatever that means!). Now I find this thesis to be highly plausible. What this means for symbol processing will have to emerge from further thought and research in to some of the references Groh supplies.
In conclusion, this book is a real door-opener for anyone interested in say cognitive psychology or philosophy of mind, who does not have any substantial exposure to neuroscience. Groh provides just enough neuroscientific detail to provide the interested learner with a new perspective on how the brain and cognition work, and a start on getting deeper into neuroscience.
1 vote mkelly | Jan 24, 2015 |
"Making Space" is quite a useful neuroscience book. The goal of the book is to explain how we know where we are in space. There are great descriptions of how our sense convert external energy such as light and sound into neural signals and how our brains process these signals into location information. I've used this book as a read along guide while taking Professor Groh's course The Brain and Space via Coursera. Making Space is a nice reference while taking this course (my copy of the book now has many margin notes). I also think this would be a nice standalone book; it reminds me of some of Issac Asimov's excellent science books. ( )
1 vote brewbooks | Nov 18, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674863216, Hardcover)

Knowing where things are seems effortless. Yet our brains devote tremendous computational power to figuring out the simplest details about spatial relationships. Going to the grocery store or finding our cell phone requires sleuthing and coordination across different sensory and motor domains. Making Space traces this mental detective work to explain how the brain creates our sense of location. But it goes further, to make the case that spatial processing permeates all our cognitive abilities, and that the brain’s systems for thinking about space may be the systems of thought itself.

Our senses measure energy in the form of light, sound, and pressure on the skin, and our brains evaluate these measurements to make inferences about objects and boundaries. Jennifer Groh describes how eyes detect electromagnetic radiation, how the brain can locate sounds by measuring differences of less than one one-thousandth of a second in how long they take to reach each ear, and how the ear’s balance organs help us monitor body posture and movement. The brain synthesizes all this neural information so that we can navigate three-dimensional space.

But the brain’s work doesn’t end there. Spatial representations do double duty in aiding memory and reasoning. This is why it is harder to remember how to get somewhere if someone else is driving, and why, if we set out to do something and forget what it was, returning to the place we started can jog our memory. In making space the brain uses powers we did not know we have.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:58 -0400)

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