Portraits of the Mind

While modern science has a lock on our understanding of most areas of the human body, the human brain continues to stump us. After all, it’s “the most elusive, mysterious and maddeningly complex organ in the body,” and there are a correspondingly large amount of texts written about it. But most of these are unapproachable to anyone not getting their PhD in neuroscience, so Carl Schoonover, who is getting his PhD in that very field, has come out with a book that makes things a bit clearer and bit more colorful. Think of Schoonover’s new release, Portraits of the Mind, as a picture book of sorts, only with pictures of the human brain. These images, heretofore seen only by scientists, range from medieval sketches to photomicrographs that reveal bizarre, often brightly colored landscapes of the brain and its many complexities. The book itself explores the variety of ways scientists study the brain, with essays from today’s leading neuroscientists and corresponding images, of course. “The result is a peek at the mind’s innermost workings, offering clues about what may lie ahead.” You don’t have to be a science genius to understand what’s fascinating about the glowing orange proteins that form the inner scaffolding of axons or the hot pink and neon blue cellular structures of a rat hippocampus; You don’t even have to know what a rat hippocampus is, though if you’re interested, Schoonover’s book answers all your rat hippocampus questions in full.

A Phrenological skull, from the 19th-century belief that the bumps on our heads reflect the underlying shape of our brains and indicate specialized brain ‘organs.’

A photomicrograph a large blood vessel. To create this image, a solidifying resin was injected throughout a human brain.