This multi-authored book ( Giuseppe A Botta, Chiara Botta, Luca Giacometti. The matter of mind, in Italian La materia della mente, Aracne Ed. December 2013, Rome) links ideally with the previous one (GAB, CB: Thanks to chance, necessity… and bacteria, 2011) in presenting a scientific vision of how our brain works. While the manuscript was in preparation President USA, B. Obama, launched officially (April 2013) the Brain initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neuro-technologies), coordinated by two leading neuroscientists, Cornelia Bargmann and William Newsome. To BRAIN will be assigned 100 million dollars from NIH and the Defense agency (!) to which an equal sum will be added from private investors. President Obama said “There is an enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked. The BRAIN initiative will… give scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action…That knowledge will be transformative”. And Francis Collins, NIH Director added” The human brain is at the present time the most complicated organ in the known Universe. We aim through this very ambitious project, some might even call it audacious, to begin to unravel these mysteries”.
The book’s aim is to bring a humble contribution to this understanding. It starts, thanks to the Effort of Chiara Botta MD PhD, to examine – using a transcultural approach – the philosophical and historical perspectives of the concepts intertwining brain, mind, soul, free will from Aristotle till quantum physics through Plato, Rhazes, al Ghazali, Thomas Aquinas, Erasmus, Spinoza, Hume, Schrödinger, Rizzolatti, Damasio, Gazzaniga. Subsequent chapters are more oriented to basic sciences (anatomy, embryology, genetics of brain development, the chemical mediators used by the neurons in the different districts, the techniques that can be used to investigate the brain in action: ECG, MRI, fMRI, SPECT, their strengths and limitations. One chapter is entirely devoted to the anatomical and biochemical basis of major emotions relevant to shape social interactions and human societies such as love, fear, anger and gratification (with its fearful relation to addiction).
The Authors are concerned with the implications that the expanding knowledge can have on affecting individual freedom and manipulation of choices and call for great attention in the ethical aspects of these studies.
Last chapter, a well-designed effort of L. Giacometti MD, considers the legal repercussions implicit in certain naïve determinist attitude that ascribes our behavior to our genes (eg. COMT: catechol-amino transferase; SCL6A4: serotonin transporter molecule; DRD4: DOPA receptor), thinking to free us from the responsibility of our choices, bringing immaturely and superficially molecular biology in Court to absolve the offender. The Authors are fully convinced that although our behavior is not free, the number of interactions genetic, biological, social, educational determining our action are so numerous and complex that each one of us should bear full responsibility for his/her actions.