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FREE AGENTS - How Evolution Gave Us Free Will
- 2023, Princeton University Press

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Scientists are learning more and more about how brain activity controls behavior and how neural circuits weigh alternatives and initiate actions. As we probe ever deeper into the mechanics of decision making, many conclude that agency—or free will—is an illusion. In Free Agents, leading neuroscientist Kevin Mitchell presents a wealth of evidence to the contrary, arguing that we are not mere machines responding to physical forces but agents acting with purpose.

Traversing billions of years of evolution, Mitchell tells the remarkable story of how living beings capable of choice arose from lifeless matter. He explains how the emergence of nervous systems provided a means to learn about the world, granting sentient animals the capacity to model, predict, and simulate. Mitchell reveals how these faculties reached their peak in humans with our abilities to imagine and to be introspective, to reason in the moment, and to shape our possible futures through the exercise of our individual agency. Mitchell’s argument has important implications—for how we understand decision making, for how our individual agency can be enhanced or infringed, for how we think about collective agency in the face of global crises, and for how we consider the limitations and future of artificial intelligence.

An astonishing journey of discovery, Free Agents offers a new framework for understanding how, across a billion years of Earth history, life evolved the power to choose, and why it matters.

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What makes you the way you are—and what makes each of us different from everyone else? In Innate, leading neuroscientist and popular science blogger Kevin Mitchell traces human diversity and individual differences to their deepest level: in the wiring of our brains. Deftly guiding us through important new research, including his own groundbreaking work, he explains how variations in the way our brains develop before birth strongly influence our psychology and behavior throughout our lives, shaping our personality, intelligence, sexuality, and even the way we perceive the world.

We all share a genetic program for making a human brain, and the program for making a brain like yours is specifically encoded in your DNA. But, as Mitchell explains, the way that program plays out is affected by random processes of development that manifest uniquely in each person, even identical twins. The key insight of Innate is that the combination of these developmental and genetic variations creates innate differences in how our brains are wired—differences that impact all aspects of our psychology—and this insight promises to transform the way we see the interplay of nature and nurture.

Innate also explores the genetic and neural underpinnings of disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, and epilepsy, and how our understanding of these conditions is being revolutionized. In addition, the book examines the social and ethical implications of these ideas and of new technologies that may soon offer the means to predict or manipulate human traits.

Compelling and original, Innate will change the way you think about why and how we are who we are.

Genetics of Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Neurodevelopmental disorders arise from disturbances to various processes of brain development, which can manifest in diverse ways. They encompass many rare genetic syndromes as well as common, heritable conditions such as intellectual disability, autism, ADHD, schizophrenia and many types of epilepsy. The Genetics of Neurodevelopmental Disorders examines recent revolutionary advances in our understanding of the genetics of these disorders, exploring both basic discoveries and the translation of new findings into the clinical setting.

The book begins by examining the genetic architecture and etiology of neurodevelopmental disorders. It describes the striking recent progress in identifying pathogenic mutations, which are grouped here based on the neurodevelopmental processes impacted. Subsequent chapters consider the use of cellular and animal models to elucidate the cascading consequences of such mutations, from molecular and cellular levels to emergent effects on neural circuits, brain systems and subsequent psychological development. The text concludes by examining the important clinical implications of the recent advances in the field, from recognition of the genetic causes in individual patients to development of new treatments and interventions.

A timely synthesis, The Genetics of Neurodevelopmental Disorders is a unique and essential resource for neuroscientists, geneticists, neurologists and psychiatrists and an accessible and up-to-date overview for medical and science students.

Book Chapters

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The Future of the Brain - Essays by the World's Leading Neuroscientists

Edited by Gary Marcus and Jeremy Freeman

Princeton University Press, 2014

Mitchell, K.J. (2014) "The miswired brain - the genetic roots of mental illness"

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Schizophrenia -

Evolution and Synthesis

Edited by Steven M. Silverstein, Bita Moghaddam and Til Wykes

2013 - MIT Press

Mitchell, K.J., O’Donnell, P., Durstewitz, D., Fenton, A.A., Gingrich, J.A., Gordon, J.A., Kelsch, W., Moghaddam, B., Phillips, W.A. and Sawa, A. (2013)

"A framework for advancing the use of models in schizophrenia"

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The Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia

Edited by Julia Simner and Edward M. Hubbard

2013 - Oxford University Press

Mitchell, K.J. (2013). Synaesthesia and cortical connectivity

– a neurodevelopmental perspective.

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Psychiatric Clinics of North America -

Schizophrenia: A Complex Disease Necessitating Complex Care

Edited by P.F. Buckley

2007 - Elsevier

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Methods in Genomic Neuroscience

Edited by Hemin R. Chen and Steven O. Moldin

2001 - CRC Press

Kevin J. Mitchell, Ph.D., Lisa V. Goodrich, Ph.D., Philip A. Leighton, Ph.D., Xiaowei Lu, Ph.D., Kathy Pinson, Ph.D., Paul Scherz, Olivia G. Kelly, Ph.D., Joel Zupicich, Paul Wakenight, Peri Tate, Ph.D., Judy Mak, Edivinia Pangilinan, Helen Rayburn, Ph.D., Danielle Rottkamp, Joe Zhong, William C. Skarnes, Ph.D., and Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D (2001) "Studying Brain Development and Wiring Using a Modified Gene Trap Approach"

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Transfer RNA in Protein Synthesis

Edited by Dolph L. Hatfield, Byeong J. Lee, Robert M. Pirtle

1992 - CRC Press (reprinted 2017)

Sharp, P.M., Burgess, C.J., Cowe, E., Lloyd, A.T., and Mitchell, K.J. (1992). "Selective use of termination codons and variations in codon choice."

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