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Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life Paperback – December 23, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Neuroscientists Aamodt, editor-in-chief of Nature Neuroscience, and Wang, of Princeton University, explain how the human brain—with its 100 billion neurons—processes sensory and cognitive information, regulates our emotional life and forms memories. They also examine how human brains differ from those of other mammals and show what happens to us during dreams. They also tackle such potentially controversial topics as whether men and women have different brains (yes, though what that means in terms of capabilities and behavior, they say, is up in the air) and whether intelligence is shaped more by genes or environment (genes set an upper limit on people's intelligence, but the environment before birth and during childhood determines whether they reach their full genetic potential). Distinguishing their book are sidebars that explode myths—no, we do not use only 10% of our brain's potential but nearly all of it—and provide advice on subjects like protecting your brain as you get older. The book could have benefited from a glossary of neurological terms and more illustrations of the brain's structure. Still, this is a terrific, surprisingly fun guide for the general reader. B&w illus. (Mar.)
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.
“Welcome to Your Brain is a delightful and engaging romp through neuroscience by two of its leading lights -- a marvelous collection of facts and findings that answer the questions we all have about our own minds. If the human brain came with an owner's manual, it might well look like this.” —Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
“Welcome To Your Brain is a lucid and fascinating journey into the inner life of the mind, an essential manual for one of nature's most amazing technologies. You'll never think about yourself -- or think about thinking -- quite the same way again.” —Steven Johnson, author of Mind Wide Open and The Ghost Map
“People need to know how the brain works. How else can you competently serve on a jury, or vote for what the government should spend money on, or decide what to make of your child having trouble learning to read? But here's the problem: lots of people find science difficult. Welcome to Your Brain is a great solution. Written by two top neuroscientists, it's great on the facts—accurate, up to date, focuses on all the important topics—AND it's crystal clear and witty and irreverent and wonderfully written. This is a terrific book.” —Robert Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
“If all scientists could write like this, professional science writers would be out of a job. Welcome to Your Brain is clear, understandable, entertaining and fascinating. A description of how, in a noisy room, to hear a caller on your cell phone is just one of the many good reasons to buy this book.” —Sandra Blakeslee, co-author, The Body Has a Mind of its Own
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Top Customer Reviews
There are two things I would like to pick on the book for: first, the 'tips' and 'did you know' sections interspersed - they're interesting and often the best part of a chapter, but they are distracting. The reader needs to choose a place to interrupt his train of thought, read the tip, and pick back up. This splitting of attention is not ideal. And second: references. OK, I'm interested in a topic, where do I go next? Point me to other books, journal papers, newspaper articles, anything. Keep me interested, teach me where to find more information.
Welcome to Your Brain is 211 pages and separated into six key parts which organize different aspects of brain function. The six parts that are discussed in the book are your brain and the world, coming to your senses, how your brain changes throughout life, your emotional brain, your rational brain and your brain in altered states. Some key topics that are covered in these six portions of the book are biological clocks, weight regulation, vision, brain development, emotions, aging, love, how to make decisions and memory. Overall, the writing style is quite simple and even too elementary at times. For readers that have a general working knowledge of neuroscience topics this book may seem too simplistic at times. However, Dr. Aamodt and Dr. Wang are still quite effective at explaining the reasons for why our brains act the way they do. If you are looking for a book with detailed explanations of neurophysiology, signaling in the brain or how systems like visual and auditory function this is probably not the book to read. Conversely, if you just wish to learn the basics about the brain, myths about how the mind works and/or facts like are men better at math than women, does playing Mozart make your baby smarter, how to overcome jet lag and does acupuncture work, then this is a great book to read. In conclusion, even though the style of writing is in layman's terms and intended for readers with a limited knowledge of the brain, it is still effective in illuminating many interesting topics.
Your Brain and the World
The first part of the book is about how your brain interacts with the world and how to help your brain through common pitfalls. In the very first chapter, the authors explore the concept of trusting your brain and if you can be certain of what your brain is telling you. The authors explained that "looking at photographs was harder than playing chess". They explained that it is easy to program computers to play chess and even beat grand masters, but it is almost impossible to program a computer to make sense of the visual world. They explain that, "when we look at, say, a dinner table, it seems obvious that the water glass is one object that is in front of the other, like a vase of flowers, but this turns out to be a sophisticated calculation with many possible answers." This chapter explains everything that goes into sensing the world around you and how your brain can play tricks on you. The authors go on to debunk the myth that humans only use 10 percent of their brains. They contend that this is completely false and "in reality, you use your whole brain every day." Some other topics in this first part of the book include how people explain brain function (and how this can often be incorrect), the role of neurons and synapses, how to control your biological clock, how your body maintains weight and even tricks for overcoming jet lag more quickly.
Coming to Your Senses
In the second portion of this book, Dr. Aamodt and Dr. Wang explore the five senses which include vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch. One interesting study that they explain was how the brain gives space to a specific person. The study concluded that some neurons respond to images associated with a particular celebrity. For example, "one fired spikes in response to all photos of Jennifer Aniston-except the one where she appeared with Brad Pitt-and did not respond to pictures of anyone else." In the chapter on hearing the everyday example of trying to talk on the phone in a loud room is examined. Most people try to cover their other ear in order to hear better, but this is not the best way to hear better in a loud room. According to Dr. Wang and Dr. Aamodt "the way to do it is to cover the mouthpiece." They explain that the reason this works is "that it takes advantage of your brain's ability to separate different signals." The authors go on to provide facts about the other three senses such as why mice don't like diet Coke, why you can't tickle yourself and whether acupuncture has any practical use.
How Your Brain Changes Throughout Life
In the third part of the book, how your brain changes throughout life, certain aspects such as aging, learning and the evolution of the brain throughout life are discussed. In the first chapter about growing brains the authors discussed the myth that listening to Mozart makes babies smarter and how babies rely on their environment to learn. Furthermore, how humans are able to learn language, what happens during adolescence, if it is helpful to cram for exams, synaptic plasticity and how to protect your brain as you get older. One suggestion that is given in the book is to exercise to keep your brain sharp. The authors write, "Even people who begin exercising in their risk of dementia by as much as half."
Your Emotional Brain
The section of the book devoted to emotions focused on many topics such as anxiety, how to find and increase your happiness, personality, sex and love. The role of the amygdala in fear responses is discussed. One study about the effect of a damaged amygdala brings to light an important role of the amygdala. Dr. Wang and Dr. Aamodt describe that when the amygdala is removed or damaged, people "fail to respond to risks with increased heart rate and sweaty palms." This means that their decision making skills are hindered in stressful situations because the risk is not understood. Also, in this section of the book the authors describe anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder, how to treat a phobia and how to increase your happiness. This part of the book provides intelligent insight on the nature of being happy and how to increase your chances of finding happiness.
Your Rational Brain
In the most informative section of the book, Dr. Wang and Dr. Aamodt discuss the rational part of the brain and how we use it. Topics include how to make sound decisions, intelligence, memory, autism and cognitive gender differences. When describing the process of making decisions, the authors explain that there are two types of decision making processes. The two types are maximizers and satisficers. "Maximizers spend a lot of time worrying about differences, no matter how small." In contrast, "satisficers look until they find something good enough, then stop." In addition to decision making, this section of the book looks at how intelligence is acquired, how intelligence is often misinterpreted, different types of memories, the role of the hippocampus in memory formation, the myth that women are moodier than men and differences in cognitive processing among men and women.
Your Brain in Altered States
In the final part of Welcome to Your Brain, several states of the brain are analyzed by the authors. Some of these altered states include dreams, spirituality, stroke and drugs and alcohol. Dr. Wang and Dr. Aamodt tell the story of Phineas Gage and how an accident that occurred while he was working on the railroad, changed the responsible, hardworking man into a "no-good, promiscuous layabout." The chapter on dreaming was very useful for understanding how the brain functions when we are sleeping. The authors discuss REM sleep, the importance of sleep for memory consolidation and the science behind why yawns tend to be contagious. Another interesting chapter focused on drugs and alcohol and the negative side-effects that they can have on the brain's function. One disorder that is reviewed in the book is Korsakoff's syndrome, which stems from heavy drinking and cause old memories to be lost and the formation of new memories.
In conclusion, while this book can often seem over simplified and "dumb downed" at times, it is still a very interesting book that provides insight to how the brain works. It provides a broad overview of everything that the brain must complete every second of every day. Almost every topic is examined by Dr. Wang and Dr. Aamodt and many facts and myths are provided as evidence for their explanations. The book teaches neuroscience in a fun and entertaining way that is understandable for anyone, regardless of their prior knowledge of the human brain. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a light read about the brain that will be entertaining, but also informative. In no way will this book teach you the intricacies of neuroscience, but it will help you use your mind more effectively and become clearer on misconceptions that are commonplace in today's world.
The book is a fascinating read which provides an excellent informational background about many facets of neuroscience. Its key feature is that it is geared towards those who don't possess in-depth knowledge of the brain, helping them understand many of the common neurological phenomena that affect individuals. The authors offer multiple examples which introduce various neural functions/trends. This makes the scientific facts that they illustrate easy to follow. On the whole, the book gives an educational overview of the brain which does not confuse the reader. Therefore, I believe it is an effective tool to learn about the human brain. Additionally, the explanations for routine neurological occurrences make the book a useful reference.
The unique style of this book makes the information understandable, especially for those without a background in neuroscience. The book is comprised of examples relevant to a normal person's life and every-day events and it steers away from confusing examples that are detached from real world scenarios that most people encounter. It also contains a multitude of helpful hints that have practical application, including the physiology behind acupuncture.
The book is divided into six sections of informative text accompanied by an introductory quiz. The quiz initiates the reader's interest in the topic by testing his understanding of the brain. The authors follow the quiz with thirty one chapters covering topics such as the brain's relationship with the surroundings, senses, the brain's ability to change, emotions, cognition, and the multiple states of the brain. Each section cycles through several examples, myths, and enlightening tips that encourage the reader to delve further into the book. The following descriptions detail the six sections.
"Your Brain and the World", the first of the six parts, focuses on introducing the brain to the reader. The authors explore the brain, how it perceives the world, and how the world perceives it. The book discusses the how the brain deceives people, provoking the thought: "can you trust anything the brain tells you"? The authors also point out several incorrect perceptions of the brain, including the frequent belief that humans "use only 10 percent of their brains". I enjoyed this portion of the book because it combines all of these fascinating topics and presents it in a readable fashion.
"Coming to Your Senses", deals with the major senses perceived by the brain. This part has fascinating information about the sensory input to the brain. An example illustrating the interconnection between the various sensory inputs to the brain is explained by offering a tip to hear better through a cell phone. It is mentioned that when you are having trouble hearing from a phone in a noisy room, due to the "source separation problem", cover the mouthpiece to produce better results while carrying a conversation.
"How Your Brain Changes Throughout Life", the third section of the book, explains the brains ability to modify itself throughout life. The mechanism for this changing of the brain to adapt to new situations is explained by synapses between neurons. Critical evidence from mice studies shows that "modifying synapses is one of the brain's most important jobs." As the authors mention, this understand holds the key to many areas of future neuroscience research.
"Your Emotional Brain" discusses emotions by saying they "occur in response to events in the world and keep our brains focused on critical information", not the mental cloud commonly perceived. A controversial but interesting topic explored is questioning if "men learn to be gay". The authors show evidence that the majority of gays displayed several indicating factors in their mother's womb or through other genetic factors. One indicator that the authors mention in relation to homosexuality is the existence of an older brother, which can potentially be explained by antibodies generated in the mother from birth of the first son.
"Your Rational Brain" describes appealing phenomena such as decision making. The authors explain the reasoning behind playing the lottery. They mention that "the payoffs of extremely low-probability events, such as winning the lottery, do not appear to be represented accurately in the brain." The book conveys appeal of this distortion by illustrating the complexity involved in seemingly simple decisions.
"Your Brain in Altered States", the last of the six parts, describes several altered states of the brain such as when it is affected by drugs, spirituality, and sleep. An interesting analysis was performed on how the Dalai Lama classified meditation: it is "divided into two categories: one focused on stilling the mind and the other on active cognitive processes of understanding." This analysis intricately linked meditation to synchronization of certain brain patterns.
In summary, the defining feature of the book is the manner in which the authors try to convey information about the brain. Their style of explaining the brain, its functions, its development, and its interactions with surroundings is very unique because they attempt to put all the material into context for the readers. They provide thought stimulating examples which relate scientific knowledge in the context of normal situations. Furthermore, the authors insert several informative boxes throughout the text. These boxes have themes such as Myth, Did You Know, and Practical Tips. These boxes are fascinating; however, I believe the authors make a critical mistake in presenting these boxes. They are so frequently scattered within the book that they break the flow of the main reading content which the authors are trying to convey.
This book serves as an excellent introduction into the functionality of the brain. Thus, I strongly recommend it as a starting point for people who are developing a passion in the field of neuroscience or are just curious about the brain.