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Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life Hardcover – January 27, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (January 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743241657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743241656
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #615,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Given the opportunity to watch the inner workings of his own brain, Steven Johnson jumps at the chance. He reveals the results in Mind Wide Open, an engaging and personal account of his foray into edgy brain science. In the 21st century, Johnson observes, we have become used to ideas such as "adrenaline rushes" and "serotonin levels," without really recognizing that complex neurobiology has become a commonplace thing to talk about. He sees recent laboratory revelations about the brain as crucial for understanding ourselves and our psyches in new, post-Freudian ways. Readers shy about slapping electrodes on their own temples can get a vicarious scientific thrill as Johnson tries out empathy tests, neurofeedback, and fMRI scans. The results paint a distinct picture of the author, and uncover general brain secrets at the same time. Memory, fear, love, alertness--all the multitude of states housed in our brains are shown to be the results of chemical and electrical interactions constantly fed and changed by input from our senses. Mind Wide Open both satisfies curiosity and provokes more questions, leaving readers wondering about their own gray matter. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

It's the rare popular science book that not only gives the reader a gee-whiz glimpse at an emerging field, but also offers a guide for incorporating its new insights into one's own worldview. Johnson, the former editor of the Webzine Feed and author of the acclaimed Emergence (2001), does just that in his fascinating, engagingly written new survey. Applying what he calls "the `long-decay' test" to gauge the information's enduring relevance, he chooses a handful of current neuroscience concepts with the potential to transform our thinking about emotions, memories and consciousness. In a charming device, the writer subjects himself to the latest in neurological testing techniques, from biofeedback to the latest forms of MRI, and shares the insight he gains into the moment-by-moment workings of his own brain, from the adrenaline spike he gets from making jokes to his intense focus when composing sentences. The structure is fluid almost to a fault, as Johnson illustrates, elaborates on and returns to his view of the brain as a modular, associative network, "more like an orchestra than a soloist." He introduces the amygdala, for example, as a small region in the brain implicated in our ongoing, nearly automatic interpretation of the emotional states of others (called "mind reading"), a function impaired in autistic individuals. But the amygdala, the brain's source of "gut feelings," returns in the following chapter as important in encoding fearful memories, a connection that helps explain why fearful or traumatic memories are so much more tenacious and detailed than emotionally neutral ones. Always considerate of his audience, Johnson weaves disparate strands of brain research and theory smoothly into the narrative (only a concluding section on Freud's modern legacy feels like a tangent), which leaves readers' minds more open than they were.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Steven Johnson is the best-selling author of seven books on the intersection of science, technology and personal experience. His writings have influenced everything from the way political campaigns use the Internet, to cutting-edge ideas in urban planning, to the battle against 21st-century terrorism. In 2010, he was chosen by Prospect magazine as one of the Top Ten Brains of the Digital Future.

His latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, was a finalist for the 800CEORead award for best business book of 2010, and was ranked as one of the year's best books by The Economist. His book The Ghost Map was one of the ten best nonfiction books of 2006 according to Entertainment Weekly. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Steven has also co-created three influential web sites: the pioneering online magazine FEED, the Webby-Award-winning community site, Plastic.com, and most recently the hyperlocal media site outside.in, which was acquired by AOL in 2011. He serves on the advisory boards of a number of Internet-related companies, including Meetup.com, Betaworks, and Nerve.

Steven is a contributing editor to Wired magazine and is the 2009 Hearst New Media Professional-in-Residence at The Journalism School, Columbia University. He won the Newhouse School fourth annual Mirror Awards for his TIME magazine cover article titled "How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live." Steven has also written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and many other periodicals. He has appeared on many high-profile television programs, including The Charlie Rose Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He lectures widely on technological, scientific, and cultural issues. He blogs at stevenberlinjohnson.com and is @stevenbjohnson on Twitter. He lives in Marin County, California with his wife and three sons.

Customer Reviews

This was book was divided into several parts, most interesting portions of which I will mention.
Artyom V. Vlasenko
I do recommend this book, it is a good read, and is light on the neuroscience (just enough for the layman) but strong on the concept of knowing yourself.
Aaron J Dykstra
As part of his summing up, Johnson has a wonderful discussion of how Freud can be updated to provide a modern theory of psychology.
algo41

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

115 of 123 people found the following review helpful By P. Keating on February 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Mind Wide Open is a remarkable, very entertaining, and complex read. This is not a 'science' book; nor is it a self-help manual. It is about all of us and each of us; about the human condition that we experience each moment, day, and life. It is a precise expose of the marriage between our mind and our soul, told in the voice of discovery. Perhaps the best testimony that I can give is this: as I read Mind Wide Open, I could not stop thinking about the many and very different people that I wanted to recommend it to. Whether you are a poet or a parent, a teacher or a tradesman, this book will enthrall you.
Part of this is the the author's style. Johnson is funny, personal, and earnest. He alternates between sharing his own musings and vulnerablities and recounting what he has carefully learned and experienced. When you read this book, you may feel the astonishing sensations that I did; your mind thinking about your mind within the context of your own experience and Johnson's perspectives. This was a visceral experience for me.
As much as Mind Wide Open will stimulate you, it is also a book that begs to be read more than once. Rarely do I read a book that I want to completely re-read again; I suspect that many others will feel the same.
I must admit to having scant, if any, interest in 'brain science' before reading this book. That has changed. What lies in our head not only influences our thinking; it catalogues our evolution and our pursuit of life's meaning. Mind Wide Open is a book that allows the reader to understand him/herself in ways that we have never explored before.
This is a superb book. I highly enjoyed it, I look forward to enjoying it again, and I give it my highest recommendation.
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195 of 216 people found the following review helpful By Sasquatch on April 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Let me begin by saying I read this book from cover to cover. I'll also mention that I'm a grad student in neuroscience. This book contained a few moderately interesting insights, but overall covered astonishingly little information. It's so full of the author's anecdotes about who he met and how he came to his conclusions that it leaves little room for his actual theses. It's a lot of flash and little substance. It's definitely well-written though.

There are so many incredible things to learn about neuroscience that are accessible to non-scientists, yet he focused most of the book on electroencephalograms (EEG), which is ancient technology and alone yields little information about the brain. He drew broad conclusions from specific data and consistently overinterpreted results. This is not surprising considering he has no degree. I should have noticed this before I bought the book. He's like the Ken Burns of neuroscience. You can't study neuroscience part-time for a year or two and expect to write a deep book on it. It's like trying to fly a space shuttle after a summer internship at NASA.

So in conclusion, if you know nothing about neuroscience, you'll probably get something out of this book. Don't waste your time on it though, because if you want to have your mind blown, read "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat".
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72 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Mark Rockwell on February 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Johnson does a good job of taking concepts that could potentially be very confusing, and lays them out in an easy to read format. He does a great job of relating chemical and electrical activities in the brain with events in everyone's everyday life.
Mind Wide Open is a great book if you're new to the field of psychology or simply aren't too familiar with the actual chemical workings of the brain. The detail in the main text isn't all that deep but the end notes make up for much of the "overlooked" information. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars because while it was informative and quite revealing I think that Johnson slightly oversimplified the issues at hand. If you come into this book with anything much above a beginners understanding of brain biochemistry you won't walk away with any new ideas.
I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a beginners guide to theories of how the brain functions.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Lukas Jackson on August 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
I decided to check out Steven Johnson's "Mind Wide Open" after reading an article of his in Discovery magazine, where he claims that video games can be more mentally stimulating than reading books. As a huge GTA: San Andreas fan and reader, part of me was intrigued by the idea, part of me saw it as a blatant ploy for the couch-potato South Park generation.

I would recommend this book as an extremely breezy read for those curious about what's going on in brain science. Johnson describes how our brains are always on endogenous drugs, be they the love potion oxytocin, the stressor cortisol, the confidence-building serotonin, etc. He also recounts some pretty interesting experiments where his mind is connected to electrodes and fMRI machines and his mental processes monitored. I have to admit, though, I wanted something a little meatier and substantive about the human mind, and wasn't quite sure if the book was limited by the state of brain science or Johnson's attempt to simplify for the everyman. Most people are aware that the mind is a neurochemical network, so there isn't anything particularly revelatory here.

Johnson rarely gets abstract. He discusses the "qualia" of consciousness only to sidestep it. (I found myself wondering why the metaphysical qualia of consciousness is even necessary; the illusion of a unified "I" must have some evolutionary advantages over a machine-like processor.) At the end he tackles Freud, but I found his attempts somewhat simplistic against the godfather of psychoanalysis.

In sum, while an interesting read, the book stretches out a little bit of information a long way. A lot of this information could have been in one magazine article. And I did fear that Johnson was trying to dumb it down a bit; I wouldn't mind more intensive scrutiny of the actual neurochemical components of the mind.
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