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Love is a many-moleculed thingSynaptic SelfJospeh LedouxViking 20 pp406The Cradle of ThoughtPeter HobsonMacmillan 20 pp307The brain is a wonderful territory for scientific exploration but those who study it are only a little way in from the frontier There is an enormous area of unexplored territory To be blunt there is a great deal that we dont understand about the way it worksThe bottom line of Joseph Ledouxs Synaptic Self is that we are our synapses Synapses are the tiny gaps between nerve cells across which chemical signals pass from one nerve cell to the next These can stimulate or inhibit the nerve cell from firing and it is the combined influence of many inputs that determine if it does fire But the nerve cell is just one of billions - there are a thousand million synapses in a piece of brain the size of a grain of sand - that connect in complex circuits How these circuits behave determines how we feel think and behave and this is ultimately determined by what is happening at the synapsesLedoux describes the molecular bases of these processes in often rather technical detail and the description of brain development is unfortunately seriously flawed Much attention is given to the hippocampus which plays such a key role in many brain functions particularly memory and the amygdala which is at the heart of emotion Ledoux considers the relation between what he calls the mental trilogy - cognition emotion motivation - and this brings into play an investigation into memory both that which is readily accessible and that which is notHe is at his best on emotion the subject of his excellent book The Emotional Brain and his studies on fear using animal models are of particular importance He also describes the new research that may be unlocking the molecular basis of love by studying voles - one of the few monogamous mammalsThe chapter on synaptic sickness is also excellent and he
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