Neuroscience is a field of study which deals with the structure, function, development, genetics, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology and pathology of the nervous system. The study of behavior and learning is also a division of neuroscience.
The biological study of the human brain is an interdisciplinary field which involves many levels of study, from the molecular level through the cellular level (individual neurons), the level of relatively small assemblies of neurons like cortical columns, that of larger subsystems like that which subserves visual perception, up to large systems like the cerebral cortex or the cerebellum, and at the highest level the nervous system as a whole.
At this highest level, neuroscientific approaches combine with cognitive science to create cognitive neuroscience, a discipline first populated mostly by cognitive psychologists, currently becoming a dynamic specialty of its own. Some researchers believe that cognitive neuroscience provides a bottom-up approach to understanding the mind and consciousness that is complementary to, or may replace, the top-down approach of psychology.
The concern of neuroscience includes such diverse topics as
- the operation of neurotransmitters at the synapse;
- the biological mechanisms that underlie learning (both declarative learning and motor learning);
- how genes contribute to neural development in the embryo and throughout life
- the operation of relatively simpler neural structures of other organisms like marine snails;
- and the structure and functioning of complex neural circuits in perceiving, remembering, and speaking.
Fields within Neuroscience
There are four main areas of study within neuroscience
- Molecular neuroscience - In principle, there is no distinction between cellular and molecular biology of the brain and of any other organ. However, there are so many differences between the nervous system and the rest of the body, both in terms of cellular functions and the goals of the field, that cellular and molecular neuroscience functions as an independent field.
- Development - This field studies the ways in which the ectodermally-derived nervous system gets organized in the adult animal. The primary subjects of investigation are the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the zebrafish Danio rerio.
- Cognitive neuroscience and systems neuroscience - These two fields are interested in explaining the link between the mind and the brain. Common methods involve functional imaging, recording of action potentials, and careful analysis of behavior.
- Neurobiology of disease - This field, directly aligned with medical research, is interested in curing any diseases associated with the nervous system.
Other related and overlapping fields include:
- Bear, M. F. et. al. Eds. (1995). Neuroscience: Exploring The Brain. Baltimore, Maryland, Williams and Wilkins. ISBN 0781739446
- Kandel, Eric, James Schwartz, and Thomas Jessel. 2000. Principles of Neural Science. 4th ed. McGraw-Hill, New York ISBN 0838577016
- Damasio, A. R. (1994). Descarte's Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York, Avon Books. ISBN 0399138943 (Hardcover) ISBN 0380726475 (Paperback)
- Andreason, N. C. (2001). Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Age of the Genome. Oxford, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195145097 (Hardcover) ISBN 0195167287 (Paperback)
- Gardner, H. (1976). The Shattered Mind: The Person After Brain Damage. New York, Vintage Books, 1976 ISBN 0394719468
- Goldstein, K. (2000). The Organism. New York, Zone Books. ISBN 0942299965 (Hardcover) ISBN 0942299973 (Paperback)
- Luria, A. R. (1997). The Man with a Shattered World: The History of a Brain Wound. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press. ISBN 0224007920 (Hardcover) ISBN 0674546253 (Paperback)
- Luria, A. R. (1998). The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About A Vast Memory. New York, Basic Books, Inc. ISBN 0674576225
- Sacks, O. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Summit Books ISBN 0671554719 (Hardcover) ISBN 0060970790 (Paperback)
- Sacks, O. (1990). Awakenings. New York, Vintage Books. (See also Oliver Sacks) ISBN 0671648349 (Hardcover) ISBN 0060973684 (Paperback)