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Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power Hardcover – December 26, 2013
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"Smarter is an essential read. It's a riveting look at the birth of a new science as well as a user’s manual for anyone who wants to be better at solving problems, learning new things, and coming up with creative ideas."
—Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind
"A clear-eyed but encouraging view of cognitive enhancement."
—Scientific American MIND
"Chatty and personal, Smarter is an easy read—even for those of us with untrained brains."
—The Washington Post
“Hurley captures the history and mystery of intelligence, but, most of all, the exciting new science of intellectual growth. This may be the most important revolution of our time!”
—Carol Dweck, Author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
"Dan Hurley isolates just what cognitive exercise boosts intelligence. Anyone who doubts that environment can make a real difference to cognition should start with this book."
—James R. Flynn author of What is Intelligence
“Filled with beautifully explained science, Smarter is engaging and inspiring, offering much-needed hope to those of us whose smarts seem to be declining. Smarter, in fact, is that rare thing: enjoyable reading that can also improve your life.”
—Gretchen Reynolds, author of The First 20 Minutes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
DAN HURLEY is an award-winning science journalist whose 2012 feature in the New York Times Magazine, "Can You Make Yourself Smarter?" was one of the magazine's most-read articles of the year. In 2013 he published another article for the magazine, "Jumper Cables for the Mind," describing his experience with transcranial direct-current stimulation. He has written on the science of increasing fluid intelligence for the Washington Post and Neurology, and is featured in the 2013 PBS documentary, "Smarter Brains." His books have been excerpted in Wired and Discover magazine. Hurley has written nearly two dozen science articles for the New York Times since 2005.
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Top Customer Reviews
His goal is to see if he can make himself measurably smarter and qualify for Mensa, the society for people with IQs in the top 2% of the population. He starts his regiment by taking their test, and without finding the results, undergoes a bit of self-experimentation to potentially improve his intelligence.
In the spirit of most biohacking so far, his experiments are self-controlled, self-inflicted, as well as non-scientific (no controls) and anecdotal. He does not try all the various possibilities (he skips LSD for example), but a number of the other regimens he manages to perform. These include TCS (trans-cranial stimulation) as well as nicotine patches and brain training sites like Lumosity.
In the end, he is marginally successful, and I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoiling too much of the book. His results aren’t the greatest cognitive leap, and there is a twist as to whether he makes it into Mensa, but I won’t spoil that either. It’s a good book if you have the time – some of the research is quite intriguing, and he rights with a semi-comedic and self-deprecating tone when discussing the science and his participation in it.
It appears that people used to think that the brain you are born with is pretty much fixed in capacity and that all you can do is use it to the max by learning and practicing various skills. In the last twenty or so years scientists have found that the brain is constantly renewing itself and rewiring in response to the environment. This raised the question as to whether we can actually improve “the machine” and not just its functioning.
Dan Hurley, the author, became interested in this question, particularly the question of whether “fluid intelligence” can be improved. Fluid intelligence refers to the brain’s ability to focus and project patterns in a useful way and it implies some degree of change in the hard wiring of the brain. This contrasts with “crystallized intelligence” which is dependent on culture and what we’ve learned. To answer the question he interviewed a battalion of scholars, tracked down the makers of “brain building” programs and machines, attended a number of scientific conferences, read a great deal, and finally selected a few techniques to try on himself. His experiment went over three months in trying various methods on himself simultaneously.
He used some computer driven programs such as the “N-back” and the popular Lumosity online programs. He investigated drugs, restricting himself to a nicotine patch. He tried electrical trancranial stimulation. Citing several studies, he put himself in a physical fitness program emphasizing both cardio and resistance exercise. Noting several papers on the effects of musical instruction he learned to play the lute – something he wanted to do thirty years before in his twenties. He even tried mindfulness meditation, but found it too time consuming since the other tasks appeared to take several hours a day. And there was more. He reports on promising avenues of drug research to help people with Down’s syndrome. He encounters scholarly rivalries, both political and rude, which are nevertheless amusing.
In passing, one can’t help but notice two things which he does not emphasize, but which seem to be of key importance: first, that the mental challenges must continually increase so that you are operating at the edge of ability; and, second, that being taught “how to think” seems to be particularly productive. It seems that, for his experiment, only the N-back game and learning the lute provided him the first requirement. There is no indication that he did anything along the lines of the second. Brain pumping aside, the author also ends with a description of several other good effects of the program, including better family relationships and better physical condition. All in all, it seems he had a fine time.
For anyone interested in this research, this book is a terrific survey of what is going on. It is bolstered by an extensive set of notes and bibliography allowing one to pursue their own literature research. By now, you’re probably wondering what the results were on Hurley’s intelligence. Well, I won’t tell you the result. You’ll have to read for yourself. You’ll find out, and you’ll have an enjoyable and illuminating read.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in improving his or her cognitive skills. I give it 5 stars because it has motivated me to try things I have never considered. For example, prior to reading this book I never would have ventured to play N-Back.
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