- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (January 2, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1596915234
- ISBN-13: 978-1596915237
- Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 92 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #641,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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About the Author
Sandra Aamodt is the editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, the leading scientific journal in the field of brain research. She lives in California with her husband. Sam Wang is an associate professor of neuroscience and molecular biology at Princeton University. He has published over forty articles on the brain in leading scientific journals, including Nature, Nature Neuroscience, and others. He lives in Prineton, NJ with his wife and daughter.
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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.
One can start on the first few chapters or jump to the middle or ending.
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.