Customer Reviews: Mind Hacks: Tips & Tools for Using Your Brain
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on December 28, 2004
This isn't really a hacks book per se. It's a set of 100 small vignettes on the brain and on neuroscience. I found surprisingly little on how to change the behavior of your brain. Or practical ways to focus your attention, to become smarter or faster. That's what I was hoping to see. Though what I see instead is interesting all on it's own.

If you are interested in neuroscience, or the function of the brain. And little games of tweaking your perception that you probably learned in Psych 101 and hen forgot. You will probably like this book.

Though I should also mention On Intelligence (0805074562) from Times Books. That book explains the nature and function of intelligence as a coherent story, and doesn't suffer from being shoeboxed into a Hacks series form like this book does.
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on April 30, 2006
It is not a typical "hacks" book in that it does not tell you how to utilize you brain more effectively or do neat things. It *does* have a lot of exercises that show you cool things on how your brain works with sections describing how your brain works - and a number of experiments (blind spot, Magnet interaction with the brain, word parsing in the the mind, and so on). This book goes very well with a recent title called _Mind Wide Open_ by Steven Johnson.

If you want traditional "hacks" the book "Mind Performance Hacks" just came out, and is chock full of those sorts of experiments, while less informative, does do things like memory tricks, meath calculation, creativity enhancement and so on.

I view "Mind Hacks" as more informative, though, so would recommend this as the first one to get, though the next purchase in this should be the "Mind Performance Hacks."
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VINE VOICEon December 17, 2004
If you ever wondered why your brain and your computer's brain don't seem to be in synch, I can refer you to a hundred reasons why. Check out the book, "Mind Hacks: Tips and Tools for Using Your Brain".

This book sets out in layman's terms the enormous developments in the brain sciences in the last two decades, which have lead to an apparent debunking of the metaphor of the brain as a logical, linear, information processor and has elevated the role of biological, emotional, and psychological elements in the understanding of perception. The book asks the reader to explore the architecture of his own brain by sampling the exercises in perception in the book. The intent is to foster a new appreciation of the way the brain (now differently conceived) shapes the reality one perceives.

The impetus for this examination and reevaluation comes from the world of technology, especially because of those tools which test, measure, and scan the brain during experimental acts of perception and behavior. Tools such as electroencephalograms, positron emission tomography, and functional magnetic resonance imaging now allow scientists to see the biological bases of perception via real-time brain scans. Examples of such studies are contained in the various "hacks" in this book, as distinct illustrations of the brain's hidden (biologically-based) logic. The authors emphasize that perception is far from straightforward and the brain in some ways has a life of its own.

Author Tom Stafford is a cognitive neuroscientist. The other primary co-author, Matt Webb, is an engineer and designer. Many of the "hacks" have been contributed by a large handful of others, mostly from the world of natural science research. Each hack is a probe, so to speak, into the works of the brain in its many aspects of perception - seeing, hearing, touch, attention, reasoning, memory, and more. Most of these hacks are structured into a template - introductory material on the latest science in that topic area, real-life illustrations of the topic, and suggestions for the reader to experiment with his own brain facilities. For example, have you ever thought why you can't normally tickle yourself? Hack #65 explains why and provides a work around. Many of the hacks are illustrated with graphics and others indicate links to websites where one can find text, graphics, video, and sound illustrations. Although these links are quite helpful and illuminating, it can be annoying to have to drop the book, log-on to a computer, and pull up a website before going back to the book to complete that segment.

This book is popular science about significant research and technology advances in the brain sciences. It will appeal to the many readers who like to keep up on important science matters without having to study for a college graduate program. The best chapters are those on Reasoning (Chapter 7) and Togetherness (Chapter 8) which include evidence puncturing the supposed rationality of human activities. Hack #70, for example, shows how the mere arrangement of a list can influence people's selection choices and why marking down a unit price from $20.00 to $19.99 is so significant. Hack #73 discusses the placebo effect and #75 delves lightly into Gestalt phenomenology.

The subject material seems a bit far afield for the publisher, O'Reilly Media, Inc., which has carved out a niche as a purveyor of computer-related books, many of which cover esoteric subjects. This volume of popular science seems to have been shoehorned into the structure of the popular O'Reilly "Hacks" series, but doesn't quite fit the template of compiling relatively separate clever solutions to discrete computer software problems. Rather than discrete and relatively independent segments, many of the individual hacks here really are just captions or headings separating subject matter.
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Remember those optical illusions you read in books as a kid? If these were school books, they probably gave no deeper explanation than to say that these were just tricks that the mind played on itself. Now, this book offers to take you into a deeper understanding of those and other related phenomena.

The book is totally at variance with the other O'Reilly Hacks books. Those concern various hardware and software. Whereas Stafford and Webb discuss the wetware of your brain. Much of the text should be familiar to biology and psychology students. But not to programmers. The authors summarise what they consider salient concepts about the brain, in general language. Along with references to research papers in journals and websites. All this is shoehorned into the format of a Hacks book. Which is quite unlike a standard biology text layout. So the book is unconventional in several ways.

One of the hacks is famous in maths. There are three doors. Behind one is a prize, while the other two have goats [i.e. no prize]. You pick a door. Then the umpire looks behind the other 2 doors and opens one that has a goat. So do you switch doors or not, in order to maximise your chances of getting the prize?

You may well find the book unsatisfying. The authors make it plain that much remains unknown about the brain. A conceptual incompleteness that cannot be avoided in any text. Other Hacks books might have a solution to a hack that is code, say. Well, either it works or it does not. And if it works [the usual case], then that is that. Whereas in this book, an answer to a hack does give more information, but may often beg for deeper clarification that no one can furnish.
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on December 14, 2004
The book has 100 serious articles - I wouldn't call them "hacks" but it's close enough - about various ways the mind works. Since this is an O'Reilly Hacks title, the text occasionally taps into the vocabulary familiar to computer geeks (like myself) - "Hack #33: Neural noise isn't a bug, it's a feature" - but not always. This book could just as easily find it's way on the Psychology shelf.

Each article also has a list of End Notes that give you further reading on each topic, which was really nice. Each "hack" is also cross-referenced very well with the other similar hacks, so you can bounce all over the book reading about various aspects of brain function. My favorite article discusses the "Hypnagogic State" - the sometimes brief period between wakefulness and sleep... I seem to find myself in that state quite a bit - now I have a name for it. =) =) =)

If you're interested in psychology or curious about the how and why, this could be a fun book to check out. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
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on July 6, 2005
This is the book for people like me: over-educated, under-employed, quasi-philosophers with the distracting habit of wondering about wondering. Why do I think they way I do? What the heck is going on biologically in my noodle when I remember "Misery" by Stephen King any time I hear a Dee-Lite song, and vice versa? Mind Hacks is the book to answer this question and more things I'd never even thought about.

If you happened to catch the Secrets of the Mind NOVA special with V.S. Ramachandran you'll know what this book is about. The little secrets and tricks your brain uses to interpret (and IGNORE!) the copious amounts of sensory information bombarding it at all times. Did you know your vision center turns off every time you move your eyes--that's why you don't see a disconcerting blur all the time (think of when a camera moves during a video presentation)? Did you know that seeing someone's mouth effects what you hear them say? Your brain and mind have a lot of work to do and they take a bunch of shortcuts to pull the whole thing off. This book teaches you in brief "hacks" (1-4 page discrete chapters) how all this is done.

Anyone interested or intrigued about how they know what they know (meta-knowledge?) would love this book.
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HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon November 16, 2005
Most of the books in the "Hack" series are about clever ways to program a certain piece of software or use a particular computer-related tool. This book is far different from the others in the series since it consists of 100 hacks that show how the brain works on a subconscious level. Each of the hacks is grouped into ten chapters each of which concentrates on a different aspect of brain activity such as seeing, integration, hearing and language, etc. You can move about this book freely and use the hacks in any order. Only the first chapter has background information that might best be read first.
Every hack consists of an introductory section, an "In Action" section that describes the cognitive experience, and a "How It Works" section that theorizes what is happening in the brain. Finally there are "End Notes" and a "See Also" section that acts as that particular hack's bibliography. All of this only requires a few pages per hack, since you are only scratching the surface. You will need to have easy access to a computer while reading this book, since most hacks direct you to a website to watch a movie, a Flash animation, or observe a series of images.
Although anyone should enjoy this book on cognitive science, it might be of particular value to those involved in writing computer games, artificial intelligence professionals, or even artists and musicians that might want to learn more about how the brain perceives visual and audio input. Readers who enjoy this book might also like "Mind Wide Open" by Steven Johnson, which is another accessible volume on cognitive neuroscience.
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HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon December 16, 2004
Ever wondered how that thing you have at the top of your head works (or doesn't work, as the case may be)? Mind Hacks - Tips & Tools for Using Your Brain (O'Reilly) by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb is a fun read to gain insight into your cranial mysteries.

Chapter List: Inside The Brain; Seeing; Attention; Hearing And Language; Integrating; Moving; Reasoning; Togetherness; Remembering; Other People; Index

The Hacks series, for those who haven't read one, is a volume of 100 tip, tricks, and "hacks" into whatever the subject matter happens to be. In this case, Stafford and Webb explore the inner workings of your mind. The early part of the book ("Inside The Brain") does a lot of explanation as to how the brain works, as well as how we can study the mind with our current technology. It's pretty much informational rather than "hands-on". But starting at #13 in "Seeing", you start to delve into specific areas of the mind. Many different studies and examples are shown (often referenced with URLs where you can follow along) that illustrate the given point. For example, #30 ("Understanding The Rotating Snakes Illusion") explains how the random movements of our eyes can create motion where there isn't any. #48 ("Detect Sounds On The Margins Of Certainty") show how the mind is adept in picking out signals hidden in random noise. And #75 ("Grasp The Gestalt") show how visual groupings influence how certain expectations are formed. Excellent material, and you may finally figure out why taking a test while drunk could be a legitimate strategy for passing.

This would also be a good book for game designers. By learning how the brain interprets certain signals and images, it would be possible to create simulations that are more lifelike on a level beyond what is currently available. From that perspective, this book should be required reading along with how to program games.

Interesting read, and one that should be done sitting in front of a computer so you can experience each hack in its fullest.
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on July 1, 2005
Explore the mysteries of consciousness with Tom Stafford and Matt Webb in their new book "Mind Hacks." Their exercises for your brain are labeled "recreational neuroscience." They describe 100 different short stories on how your brain works in tandem with your senses and their limitations. Each chapter has insightful exercises that help you understand how your brain ticks and communicates with your senses.

It helped me understand how my senses work and interact with critical and creative thinking. Several chapters discuss sensor performance, depth perception, and blind spots. Some are obvious but forgotten in everyday use. Some are new thoughts on the use and capability of your senses. Some debunk myths of brain limitations. Some show you how to improve your mood and happiness of others. But I especially love the chapter that says I should play more Halo (chapter 43).

I've heard of or experienced some of these scientific effects, but didn't always know the science behind them. This book points out the mechanics of your sensory perceptions interacting with different parts of your brain.

It provides interesting websites and references for following up and reading more on each topic. Overall, Mind Hacks has nice short chapters for easy reading and provides fascinating new ways to look at your brain and senses.
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on July 2, 2007
Learning about the mind is okay, but I didn't learn anything that I hadn't seen in Psych 101, and a few interesting articles later on.

Calling it a "hacks" book is false advertising, at best. Should it make it to another printing, I would hope O'Reilly would rename it.

The information seemed accurate, so I'll give it that.
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