52 in 52 Book Summaries

Book Summary: Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are by Joseph Ledoux

Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are by Joseph LeDoux

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The Essence

Brain development is an integrative process, where the neural circuits that preserve our capabilities to think, emote, motivate, influence, and interact with each other originate from neurotransmitter, made up of proteins, that are transcribed from genes; all which being modulated by environmental exposure. LeDoux explains how through these systems, learning and memory are modified to create all that we conceive to be our selves. The brain makes the self. The brain, Ledoux argues, is the hub for all conscious experiences, and to better understand unordinary states of that experience, such as those that arise from mental illness, we ought to consider the wealth of knowledge from the synapse.

Synaptic Self Journal Entry Notes:

This is my book summary of Synaptic Self. My notes are a reflection of the journal write up above. Written informally, the notes contain a mesh and mix of quotes and my own thoughts on the book. Sometimes, to my own fault, quotes are interlaced with my own words. Though rest assured, I am not attempting to take any credit for the main ideas below. The Journal write up includes important messages and crucial passages from the book.

  • People don’t come preassembled, but are glued together by life.
  • Whether your paycheck is deposited to your bank account automatically or you hand it over to the teller in person, it goes to the same place. Nature and nurture function similarly: they are simply two different ways of making deposits in the brain’s synaptic ledgers.
  • The essence of who you are is stored as synaptic interactions in and between the various systems of your brain.
  • Evolutions wisdom sometimes comes at a cost. Anxiety and fear in the information age fit the bill. While these are seen as profitable tools for survival and replication from natural selections perspective, our new environment differs greatly from that of our ancestors and therefore can create abnormal interactions between the two.
  • Chemical brothers: Glutamate & Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Glutamate and GABA are together responsible for much of the neurotransmission business in the brain. Understanding the work done by these two chemicals will shed light on quite a lot about how synapses function.
  • The working self: a dynamic and mutable construction that changes in different situations. We are all hypocrites, as constructed within the working memory. Various mental modules processed moment to moment yield decision-making, and behavioral control.
  • We are memories, and without them, we are nothing.
  • Old memories are the result of multiple reinstallments of the same synaptic changes in the cortex. Once accumulated the cortical representation can become self-sufficient, not needing the hippocampus.
  • Our memory flaws are features: the sins of memory are by-products of virtues. Nevertheless, acknowledge their existence for that will be the only manner to protect ourselves.
  • Memory is more than just what we can consciously recall.
  • Cells that fire together wire together. Hebbian learning explains how certain kinds of synaptic changes take place in the brain, and it may be the major way memories are made.
  • Once an emotional habit pattern is well learned, the brain systems involved in expressing it become simpler.
  • All learning depends on the operation of genetically programmed capacities to learn. Learning involves the nurturing of nature.
  • In LeDoux’s view, the self is the totality of what an organism is physically, biologically, psychologically, socially, and culturally. Though it is a. unit, it is not unitary.
  • How neural systems assembled and maintain the self in seven key principles.
    Principle 1 Different systems experience the same world
    Principle 2 Synchrony coordinates parallel plasticity
    Principle 3 Parallel plasticity is also coordinated by modulatory systems
    Principle 4 Convergence zones integrate parallel plasticity
    Principle 5 Downwardly mobile thoughts coordinate parallel plasticity
    Principle 6 Emotional states monopolize brain resources
    Principle 7 Implicit and explicit aspects of the self overlap. But not completely
  • Life is change and the brain is a device for recording changes (forming memories through learning).
  • Drugs can induce adaptive changes in neural circuits, or, put neural circuits in a state where adaption and learning are promoted.
  • The combination of presynaptic and postsynaptic activity is indeed the magic formula for increasing synaptic.
  • We are never aware of processing, but only of the consequences of processing. Like the Wizard of Oz. Executive processes work behind the scenes.
  • Mood Congruity Hypothesis: memories can be retrieved more easily when your given mood matches the one at which was present when the memory was first/last retrieved. E.g sad events come to mind when you are depressed.
  • You are your synapses. They are who you are.

If you liked what you saw. Here are 3 titles that I recommend based on what was discussed in Synaptic Self.

  1. The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman
  2. The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves by Eric R. Kandel
  3. Neuroplasticity (The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series) by Moheb Costandi

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