INCOGNITO

THE SECRET LIVES OF THE BRAIN

An up-to-date examination of what used to be called the mind-body problem.

Eagleman (Neuroscience/Baylor Coll. of Medicine; Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, 2009) makes the point that our sense of ourselves as coherent, free-standing personalities is at odds with the most basic findings about the workings of the human brain, an organ so complex that an objective description of it sounds hyperbolic. Instinct, unconscious impulses, automatic systems, emotion and a dozen other forces, most of which we aren’t even aware of, affect every thought and action. The book is full of startling examples; split-brain research, for example, shows how the two halves of a mind can be completely at odds, with neither being aware of what the other experiences. Nor are those of us with “whole” brains and a complete set of senses necessarily experiencing the world “as it really is.” For example, other animals experience a different part of the visual spectrum, or can detect sounds and odors we have no awareness of. A significant segment of the population—about 15 percent of women—sees colors the rest of us can’t. Our brains work differently when learning a skill and after it’s become second nature – it’s one thing to drive to a new place, another to drive a familiar route, and our brains work much harder doing the former than the latter, when we can go on “automatic pilot.” There are lessons to be learned from various mental disorders, as well. Victims of strokes affecting certain parts of the brain may claim that they are operating at full capacity when they are clearly not; one former Supreme Court justice was forced to retire after displaying these symptoms. Eagleman has a wealth of such observations, backed up with case studies, bits of pop culture, literary references and historic examples. A book that will leave you looking at yourself—and the world—differently.

 

Pub Date: May 31, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-37733-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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