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Free the Genius in Your Brain

by Berit Brogaard & Kristian Marlow

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59463-368-3
Publisher: Hudson Street/Penguin

Another in a long line of you-can-be-Einstein treatises, blending hard neuroscience with parlor tricks.

Let’s say you meet someone new who tells you she’s turning 40 a few days hence. You nonchalantly tell her that she was born on a Friday. Have you become a Marilu Henner overnight? No: you just use an algorithm that allows you to “speed-calculate the weekday of any date within this or the last century.” Synesthete Brogaard, director of an eponymous lab for multisensory research at the University of Miami, doesn’t really take time to explore why one would want to be able to undertake this calculation, but there’s some neat stuff in her book, written with graduate student Marlow, all touching on the strange capabilities of the brain. One memorable turn, for example, is the use of fMRI to help recovering drug addicts use mental tricks to combat any cravings they might have for a particular drug (though the authors’ dismissive “So much for AA” seems an unnecessary dig). Some of their case studies come from the annals of what is generally coded as abnormal psychology, but more are simply wonderments: the real-life “super-savant” who inspired Rain Man, for instance. In real life, he was not autistic but instead had an undeveloped corpus callosum, which turns out to be “among the most common human brain malformations.” Just so, the trajectory of this book isn’t quite developed. The narrative ping-pongs among gee-whiz episodes of perfect pitch, sleepwalking, lucid dreaming, and clairvoyance without quite delivering the promise of the subtitle. However, there are some nicely thought-provoking moments, including the authors’ closing thoughts on the coming singularity. And how to thwart the robots? Get smarter than them, perhaps.

Fruitful reading for devout self-improvers, though Maria Konnikova’s Mastermind (2013), which covers some of the same ground, is more appealing and better written.