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on August 12, 2015
ever catch yourself not acting like yourself or someone you thought you knew really well doing something you couldn't imagine ever wonder why you can sometimes intuit whats around you with almost nothing to go on ever wonder how great philosophers psycologisys or religious thinkers seem to be so right and so wrong at the same time this book will give you a clue
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on July 11, 2015
This has actually provided more questions and introduced me to areas I hadn't considered, more paths to investigate. It's one that I will have to read more than once so I continue to follow what I haven't completely grasped. If you are curious about the brain at all, this is a solid good read!
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on February 8, 2015
Steven Johnson makes a quick and easy read. My understanding of the brain is clearer.
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on January 1, 2015
A deeper read, generally discussing the conflict between the processing, frontal portion of the brain and the emotional, slower working, limbic portion. So that while your thoughts may be moving quickly, words/stimulae that affect the limbic may still be affecting your mood.
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on October 11, 2014
thank you
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on September 22, 2014
Very intriguing! An excellent book that brings neuroscience to an everyday level of understanding!
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on August 31, 2014
A journey inside your brain. Knowing which chemicals are responsible for which actions and reactions. The working of amygdala was fascinating, a high speed yet low resolution path in our brain which helped us to survive! And lots of other things:
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
What Steven Johnson does, in a world of specialist idiots, is write like a liberal arts master about the experience of the mind's activity. Let me be clear, the "experience" of consciousness is something called "ontologcal awareness," or "existential psychology." It is not "neuroscience" any more than a plumber is an architect. The core issue here is that 100% of neuroscientists cannot tell you what consciousness "is." The qualia, the experience. No idea. Ask them if you don't believe me. The honest ones will tell you they don't know. The others may try to snow you with some display of superior knowledge, degrees, etc.
So people like Johnson are a treasure, because he calls up the experience of inquiry and consciousness itself. He is very engaging. Many writers in this area are flat and boring, like ginger ale or beer that has been left out for a day. Flat.
Trust your amygdala and see if you like him, as he takes you into your experience.
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Like Steven Johnson's earler book "Emergence," his "Mind Wide Open" is one of those books wished for by every aficionado whose interest in, not to say passion for science exceeds his expertise in the subject treated or science in general. Like "emergence" and related subjects "self-organization" and "complexity," so likewise "neuroscience" is one of those more recently fascinating but too often mysterious areas of science which, just a few decades ago, had not even been heard of beyond a small circle of passionate fanatics. What neuroscience has discovered is that every "movement" of our psyche, whether conscious or unconscious, rational or emotional, is accompanied not to say caused by a physical, electro-chemical movement in our brain, detectable by CAT scans, fMRI scans etc. Now indeed, "neuro-science" has gotten a bad name among many, being regarded as reducing all thoughts, ideas, feelings etc. to "nothing but" electro-chemistry in the brain, even as some early 20th-century scientists reduced "love" to mere "chemistry," etc. But such reductionism is by no means necessary, being more a philo-sophical than a scientific conception. But Johnson's "Mind Wide Open," by giving you and enlightening but painless introduction to neuro-science, will enable you to leave all such worries about "reductionism" far behnd you. It cannot be too highly recommended.
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on September 29, 2013
In this review I will give my overall opinion of Johnson's Mind Wide Open as well as briefly summarize and critique the book.

Overall, I would give this book four out of five stars. This book focuses on the practical implications of neuroscience with regards to the mind and memories. The author's main idea is we will be more self-aware if we understand how the brain works. He writes, "Brain science has become an avenue for introspection, a way of bridging the physiological reality of your brain with the mental life you already inhabit" (31).

The book is targeted to a general audience. For example, complex biochemistry topics are avoided. In addition, Darwin and Freud are referred to but not relied upon. Many practical examples and illustrations are included throughout.

This book is divided into six chapters:
Chapter 1 (Mind Sight) discusses the minds ability to interpret non-verbal cues in a social setting.
Chapter 2 (Sum of My Fears) explains how people deal with traumatic events and develop phobias.
Chapter 3 (Your Attention, Please) describes how the brain filters the external world and focuses on the task at hand.
Chapter 4 (Survival of the Ticklish) gives insight into the bonds that form between a parent and a child and also expresses why laughter is important to a healthy life.
Chapter 5 (Hormones Talking) hints at the effects drugs have on the brain.
Chapter 6 (Scan Thyself) depicts how an fMRI machine can detect different patterns of thought.

The author's writing style is conversational. He relates personal accounts from his life and asks the reader questions to think about. The book is structured in distinct chapters. The topics are self-contained and do not draw on material from previous chapters (other than a couple personal antidotes used throughout).

The Good:

Throughout the book the author gives many concrete examples to illustrate his points. For example, in chapter 1 an interesting discussion about fake and real smiles is presented from a neuroscience perspective. Fake and real smiles are generated using completely different facial muscles. The edges of the eyebrows bend down slightly when the person is actually smiling. An extreme example of the smiling difference can be seen in stroke victims. When this person is told to smile he will display a lopsided grin. However, if he is told a joke a full smile will come across his face. Brain scans can easily confirm whether or not the smile represents genuine happiness.

The author takes the reader out of his/her isolated brain and shows how neuroscience helps us to interact as a society. A section from chapter one goes into how the brain can pick up on subtle facial expressions to discern over 400 different emotions. Johnson uses an example from the animal kingdom and then comes full circle to deal with the autism and other mental disorders. The same part of the monkey's brain is activated whether he is climbing a tree or sees another monkey doing the same activity. The brain is able to link its mental state with the actions of others. "Researchers explored the premise that autistic people suffer from a kind of mindblindness, preventing them from building hypotheses about others' internal monologues" (36). Johnson then tactfully discusses autism and other disorders where the person is not able to recognize or identify with other's emotions.

Johnson does a great job transitioning from the specifics to the implications. Phobias are covered in chapter 2. He described how the amygdala is different from the visual cortex and explained why the amygdala stores a general picture without all the details. This is useful for quick retrieval but can lead to phobias. For example, any loud noise can give a soldier a flashback or a garden hose may be mistaken for a snake. In chapter 6 he is able to simplify the fMRI results and show how computers can distinguish between different interest levels.

In chapter 5 Johnson covers the subject of drugs, both prescription and illegal. He does an admirable job of neither condemning the drug addict nor encouraging people to over-medicate themselves. There is a section that describes in layman's terms what a lack of serotonin does and how Prozac can help people who have trouble handling rejection. Other topics shed light on why LSD trips go bad and why people have to take a greater amount of drug to experience the same high. The explanations are clear and helpful.

Another positive of the book is it makes consider why obvious things are the way they are. Everyone knows that a mother feels a special bond with her newborn baby. People intuitively know that laughter makes us feel good. Various theories of how the hormone oxytocin works. Overall, chapter 4 goes into how and why the brain produces pleasurable responses to everyday situations.

The Bad:

While there are many good things about this book, there are a couple things that could have made it better. The author tries to weave his experience with 9/11 throughout the book. It gets a little repetitive reading about this event over and over again. At times it seems he is trying too hard to force this example to illustrate the various chapter concepts.

Most of the book has been focused on practical implications of the neuroscience findings. The conclusion of the book seemed out of place. For over 30 pages there is an esoteric discussion about Darwin and Freud. It's almost as if this is a conclusion to a different book or someone else wrote it. I expected a discussion about how understanding the brain can help us to understand our struggles and desires as well as better understand and relate to the people around us.

General Recommendation:

The author sets out to explain how the mind is able to make to sense from human relationship, experiences and the environment. He does a fine job of this through basic explanations, stories and examples. This book would be a good read if you are interested in an overview of the difference between the brain and the mind and how they interpret and create reality. If you want an in-depth book about neuroscience then you should look elsewhere. Understanding how we interpret our surroundings and deal with past situations will help you in your day to day life. This book will give you a head start in understanding yourself better.
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