We see the last cookie in the box and think, can I take that? We reach a hand out. In the 2.1 seconds that this impulse travels through our brain, billions of neurons communicate with one another, sending blips of voltage through our sensory and motor regions. Neuroscientists call these blips “spikes.” Spikes enable us to do everything: talk, eat, run, see, plan, and decide. In The Spike, Mark Humphries takes readers on the epic journey of a spike through a single, brief reaction. In vivid language, Humphries tells the story of what happens in our brain, what we know about spikes, and what we still have left to understand about them.
Drawing on decades of research in neuroscience, Humphries explores how spikes are born, how they are transmitted, and how they lead us to action. He dives into previously unanswered mysteries: Why are most neurons silent? What causes neurons to fire spikes spontaneously, without input from other neurons or the outside world? Why do most spikes fail to reach any destination? Humphries presents a new vision of the brain, one where fundamental computations are carried out by spontaneous spikes that predict what will happen in the world, helping us to perceive, decide, and react quickly enough for our survival.
Traversing neuroscience’s expansive terrain, The Spike follows a single electrical response to illuminate how our extraordinary brains work.
Awards and Recognition
- Finalist for the PROSE Award in Biomedicine, Association of American Publishers
Mark Humphries is Chair in Computational Neuroscience at the University of Nottingham. He is the founding editor of The Spike, a Medium online publication. He lives in Sheffield, England. Twitter @markdhumphries
"[A] vivid tale."—New Scientist
"Humphries has woven together strands of experimental results and theoretical insights to compose a book that is engrossing, excites the imagination, beautifully encapsulates contemporary neuroscience in a light and breezy package, and points the way to future discovery."—Sean Noah, Knowing Neurons
"A thorough and interesting description of what we know and don't know about neural spikes, as well as why they matter."—R. Forbes-Lorman, Choice
"In this fascinating, roller-coaster ride through the most fundamental component of our nervous systems, Mark Humphries takes us to the frontiers of neuroscience. A brilliant achievement."—Matthew Cobb, author of The Idea of the Brain: The Past and Future of Neuroscience
"This book is truly wonderful. Mark Humphries takes us on a magical, demystifying tour of the brain, letting us tag along on a neural signal’s journey from eyeball to hand—as when you see a mosquito and swat it. Rollicking but deftly organized, The Spike is cast in everyday, easygoing language yet backed by tight science and state-of-the-art insights. This book's fresh approach will charm novices as well as old neurobiological hands."—Patricia S. Churchland, author of Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition
"The Spike is a fun yet deeply informative account of the electrical journey that information takes as it passes into our eyes and through our mind, and ultimately leads us to act. Drawing on the latest neuroscientific discoveries and theories, Humphries tells a compelling story of how minute changes in electrical signals in the brain give rise to our thoughts and actions."—Russell A. Poldrack, author of Hard to Break: Why Our Brains Make Habits Stick
"The Spike gives a brilliant overview of our current understanding of brain function, from perception to action, based on our knowledge of systems neuroscience. Conveying ideas and concepts with impressive clarity, Humphries covers an astonishing amount of scientific literature. A joy to read."—Matthias Hennig, University of Edinburgh