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Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life Hardcover – Jan 27 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (Jan. 27 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743241657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743241656
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 454 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #611,625 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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.

From Booklist

Journalist Johnson, whose Emergence (2001) explored collective behavior, here branches into another arena of emergent phenomena, our brains. Volunteering himself as a test subject, Johnson gallivants to a series of experimenters in neuroscience and wires his head up to their machines. Consciousness is explicitly not his topic; rather, Johnson hunts for neurochemical and physiological bases for feelings of conscious experience involving attention, emotion, and memory. Along the way, Johnson explains how the hormone oxytocin contributes to feelings of attachment; how new biofeedback technologies can help people rewire their brains; the science behind our ability to read other people's expressions; and how understanding brain chemistry may well lead to an understanding of dreams and phobias. Spreading a gospel to be curious about one's own mind, Johnson, aided by personal anecdotes about, for example, the length of his attention span, will snare even those unfamiliar with brain science. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
It is the most complicated object in the solar system, and each of us gets to carry one around at all times. The complications of the human brain, however, have ensured that among all the organs of the body or other objects of investigation, it is the slowest to yield its secrets. Especially over the past two decades there have been intense inquiry and surprising new tools for studying the brain, and in _Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life_ (Scribner), Steven Johnson has made himself a test subject for various means of looking at the brain. He is a technology writer for Discover magazine, so he gets to try out gadgets for which most of us will never be guinea pigs. His is a personal view of a universally fascinating subject, and a fine introduction to current brain science for those not familiar with the field.
The tests Johnson puts himself through and describes so openly are good subjects for his amused reflection. For instance, a few years ago he was hooked up to a biofeedback machine, sensors attached to hands and forehead. The machine was set to monitor adrenaline levels. He felt nervous, and as is his habit, he deflected the nervousness by making jokes, to the audience of the biofeedback guy. (His writing is loaded with good humor, too.) And every joke he made showed up on the monitor as an adrenaline spike; suddenly the jokes "... seemed less like casual attempts at humor and more like a drug addict's hungering for a new fix." Here was a little chemical subroutine his brain had been putting itself through every day for almost all his life, and he had not known a thing about it. He still could not explain why the adrenaline rush felt the way it did, but that's not important.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book before Steven Johnson's later works, The Ghost Map (2006) and Where Good Ideas Come From (2011) and then re-read recently, before composing this commentary. Because Johnson is a very serious thinker with an almost insatiable curiosity, he devotes uncommon time and thought to what he writes and draws heavily on a wealth of secondary sources that he duly acknowledges. For this book, there are generously annotated notes (Pages 217-255) and an extensive bibliography (Pages 257-262). Other reviews have offered insightful reasons for holding this book in high regard. I agree with those reasons and see no need to recycle them now.

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 technoscie3ntific 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.
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Format: Hardcover
Maybe I shouldn't dock the book a star or two on account of the sheer drudgery and pointlessness of the final 35+ pages, but unfortunately, it was like having a tasty meal and then finding a cockroach in your dessert. I don't know whether the publisher insisted on the author tacking on the Conclusion section or if it was more organically contrived by the author himself, but it doesn't work. We have essentially up until page 183 some interesting anecdotes and introspections from the author related to developments in brain science. These I enjoyed quite a bit. Johnson took the tact, fittingly, of an investigative reporter in subjecting himself to neurofeedback measures and MRI scans. I found it very interesting to hear about procedures in great detail that have been heretofore only terms in passing to me. His writing style is fluid, and he manages to not get overly-techie in his descriptions. He dotes perhaps a little too much on his gift of writing, but while a tad annoying, that was certainly a forgivable sin.
It's when we get to that rather lengthy Conclusion section that Johnson hits the wall and seems suddenly out of his element and expertise. At least my expectation was that he would synthesize his analysis from the previous chapters into some kind of cogent summary or at least speculate based on his findings about the path forward for neuroscience. Instead, it becomes largely an odd hommage to Freudian ideas, purveying Freud as a greater visionary than he's been given credit in recent years. It was tedious and not particularly insightful. For one, the author clearly recognizes the infirmity of what he's saying.
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