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Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life Paperback – May 10, 2005
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Here in Dallas, there is a Farmer's Market near the downtown area where several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that same spirit, I offer a selection of brief passages representative of the high quality of Johnson's skills.
"Unlike so many technoscientific advances, the brain sciences and their imaging technologies are, almost by definition, a kind of mirror. They capture what our brains are doing and reflect that information back to us. You gaze into the glass, and the reflection says to you, `Here is your brain.' This book is the story of my journey into that mirror." (Page 17)
"The attention system works as a kind of assembly line: higher-level functions are built on top of lower-level functions. So if you have problems encoding, you'll almost certainly have problems with supervisory attention. When people notice attention impairments, they're usually detecting problems with the focus/execute or supervisory levels, but the original source of the problem may well be farther down the chain, or it might be localized to a particular sensory channel." (Page 93)
"Understanding the roots of laughter requires a kind of hybrid of the Darwinian and Freudian models. We laugh primarily because laughter is a crucial component of the emotional glue that connects parent and child during the vulnerable years of development. Children who laugh and roughhouse and tickle with their guardians create powerful bonds of affection with those grown-ups, and the bonds help them survive." (Page 127)
"For reasons probably both generic and cultural, I am not much of a mystic, but these flashes of insight [while writing this book] were the closest thing I had to the experience of mysticism. These sparks were the transcendence that Keats sought when he commanded us to `open wide the mind's caged doors.'"
Note: The quotation is from the beginning of John Keats's poem, "Fancy":
"Ever let the Fancy roam,
Pleasure never is at home'
At a touch sweet Pleasure melteth,
Like to bubbles when rain pelteth;
Then let winged Fancy wander'
Through the thought still spread beyond her:
Open wide the mind's caged-door
She'll dart forth, and cloudward soar."
"To me, one of the most moving discoveries in the brain sciences - after a century f Darwinian conflict and Oedipal struggle - has been the emerging understanding of the brain's affiliative systems. Our brains are designed to love and connect as much as they are designed to flee and fight." (Page 264)
To his great credit, Steven Johnson relies on layman terms (to the extent possible) to explain the neurological context of dozens of everyday situations. For example, How to "read" people accurately? Why and how do we devise self-delusions? How to explain what I characterize as "the invisibility of the obvious"? What is the neurochemistry behind love, hate, joy, rage, and other extreme emotions? With what does a brain "teem"? Why and how can great works of art (painting, sculpture, music, ballet) move us to tears? And in anticipation of a book Johnson wrote years later, where do breakthrough ideas originate?
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to read Steven Johnson's later works as well as Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, Gerald Edelman's Bright Air, Brilliant Fire, Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, and Jonah Lehrer's Imagine.