Jean-Pierre Changeux

The True, the Good and the Beautiful Publication date : November 14, 2008

This is a short history of contemporary neuroscience.

In keeping with his training as a molecular biologist, Jean-Pierre Changeux emphasises the need to base the brain sciences on elementary nerve cells mechanisms. This idea has been one of his enduring concerns, but he now takes it much further, since he extends it to the traditional areas of psychology, consciousness and social interaction. Chapter by chapter, the reader progresses from the structure of receptors engaged in the transmission of signs between nerve cells to the fundamental processes of learning; then, from the organisation of neuronal networks to sensorial and cognitive processes, to language, and to all the other higher functions that distinguish humans from other apes.

Jean-Pierre Changeux has constantly reviewed his work to account for the latest discoveries and to draw conclusions from the most significant findings, such as the elucidation of the complete sequencing of the human genome which has altered our understanding of the evolutionary origins of the human brain. Rapid technological advances — such as brain imaging, which gives access to brain networks engaged both in conscious and unconscious processes — have further revolutionised the neurosciences.

Beginning with such empirical factors, Jean-Pierre Changeux engages in a critical reflection that leads him to the subtle interfaces of the brain sciences and the humanities and social sciences. He becomes increasingly philosophical. Is it legitimate to look for a neuroscience of truth, to wish to give a neural basis to moral judgements and ethical norms, to envisage a neuro-aesthetics? These are some of the questions that take us beyond the ambit of the interdisciplinary debate, and pave the way for future scientific research programmes. This book broadens our horizons and gives a new vision of the world.

An eminent neurobiologist and the author of such successful works as L'Homme neuronal (1983) and l'Homme de vérité (2002), Jean-Pierre Changeux is an honorary professor at the Institut Pasteur and a member of the French Academy of Sciences. He held the chair of cellular communication at the Collège de France, from 1976 to 2006. His other works include L'Homme artificiel (2007), La Nature et la Règle (with Paul Ricoeur, 1998), Raison et plaisir (1994) and Matière à pensée (1989).

“Jean-Pierre Changeux has one of those rare minds that confront ideas and bring them together.” L'Express