Matthew Cobb longlist author interview
29 September 2020
This is the story of our quest to understand the most mysterious object in the universe: the human brain.
Today we tend to picture it as a computer. Earlier scientists thought about it in their own technological terms: as a telephone switchboard, or a clock, or all manner of fantastic mechanical or hydraulic devices. Could the right metaphor unlock its deepest secrets once and for all?
Galloping through centuries of wild speculation and ingenious, sometimes macabre anatomical investigations, scientist and historian Matthew Cobb reveals how we came to our present state of knowledge. Our latest theories allow us to create artificial memories in the brain of a mouse, and to build AI programmes capable of extraordinary cognitive feats. A complete understanding seems within our grasp.
But to make that final breakthrough, we may need a radical new approach. At every step of our quest, Cobb shows that it was new ideas that brought illumination. Where, he asks, might the next one come from? What will it be?
Matthew Cobb is Professor of Zoology at the University of Manchester. His previous books include Life's Greatest Secret: The Race to Discover the Genetic Code, which was shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Book Prize, and the acclaimed histories The Resistance and Eleven Days in August. He is also the award-winning translator of books on the history of molecular biology, on Darwin's ideas and on the nature of life.
Chris van Tulleken