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One of the few books that has kept my attention through its entirety...
, October 20, 2008
This book will definitely capture your attention and get you interested in how the brain works. It is easy to read and explains all the presented theories very clearly. I am currently a student taking a neuroscience class, which definitely helps me understand some of the concepts in the book. However, even if you don't know much about neuroscience or have a related field in your background, you will still enjoy reading this book! Strange Behavior is definitely one of the most interesting books I've ever read. The author provides a good balance of theory, case study, and physiological principles in each chapter in order to inform the reader about why the brain functions the way it does. Also, the book never gets monotonous because each chapter presents different physiological concepts.
Strange Behavior is a collection of stories that talk about the evolution of the brain and how it came to be one of the most complex organs in all species. It gives insightful information to why we are more advanced than other animals and how the brain has evolved over time. It also explains naturally occurring phenomenon that we don't think about everyday. For example, did you know that genetic mutations affect which hand you use? Or that "the physiological systems of our brains were never selected to read text at the same time we are trying to watch...events unfold," like in subtitled films.
In each chapter, the author usually starts out by telling the story of a clinical patient, while he incorporates scientific explanations of how the brain works. He slowly builds on each story by going over the thought process he went through while trying to solve the patient's "brain problem". As the reader learns more and more about the patient in the clinical tale, he explains theories on how the human brain has developed specific functions. In the end, he summarizes why scientists believe the brain has developed the way it has.
The book is divided into two parts and each part has 6-7 chapters.
I have listed the chapter titles and a short description below that will help to understand what each chapter is about:
Part One- The Ascent of Cognitive Function:
1. Defending the Cavewoman: The Window of Opportunity for learning- how a critical period for learning language is built into our maturing brain
2. A Lucy of My Very Own: Locating Handedness and Speech- how handedness and which part of the brain controls speech is decided
3. The Gift of Speech: Frank Morrell and the Treatment Acquired Epileptic Aphasia-why speech stimulation is crucial to a developing brain
4. Manganese Miners: Hard Wiring for Movement- explains why some humans are more susceptible to brain conditions that affect movement
5. I Never Read a Movie I Liked: The Architecture of Reading- clarifies why human brains were never built to read and watch events at the same time
6. One of These Things Is Not Like The Others: How Literacy Changes the Brain- talks about how each generations environment affects the way the brain develops
7. The Music Goes Round and Round: But It Comes in Where?- says that the earlier you start playing music, the more brain activity you have
Part Two- The Brain's Soft Spots: Programmed Cell Death, Prions, and Pain:
8. My Lunch With Oliver: Why That Morning Was Different From All Other Mornings- how the brain has developed tolerance when it comes to pain
9. Two Sets of Brains: Something Old, Something "New"- describes the changing of the nervous system over time to favor the brain over the base of the spinal cord
10. Anticipation: Unto the Third Generation and Beyond- Huntington's disease
11. The Hermit of Thief River Falls: On First Meeting an Eponym- Refsum's disease
12. Mad Cows and Mad Markets: Ice-Nine and the Non-Darwinian Evolution of Man and Disease- describes why DNA is not the only factor in human evolution
13. Whatever Happened to Baby Neanderthal? An Afterthought
Out of all the chapters in this book, my favorite was the first one: Defending the Cavewoman. The author begins by describing a case study in which a 6 year old girl was found locked in a closet of a run-down apartment building. She had been exposed to very little contact with humans and did not know how to speak at all. The author then describes how over the years the little girl acquired language due to the fact that she was still in her critical period of learning. Then, he compares us to other species and describes the inherent skills that we are all born with. Lastly, he shows us that "our advantages over other species are most probably due to the development of a complex language", which were taught by mothers to their children in order to teach them how to survive. I feel like the concepts explained in this chapter were the most interesting because the "critical period" is extremely relevant to understanding how humans learn and, therefore, how we have evolved into the complex creatures we are today.
All-in-all this book was very fascinating and informative. The reason this book was so effective, is that the author explains all the theories and concepts in a simplistic and organized fashion so readers from all backgrounds can fully understand how the brain has changed over time. However, he still manages to add enough details to each theory so readers still understand the science and mechanisms behind the evolution of the brain. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the brain and how it has progressed over time.