An exploration of recent discoveries in neuroscience and the ways in which we perceive and interpret the world.
The good news is that good news is received and processed in one part of the brain. The bad news is that bad news is received and processed in another region. Why? Sigman, the founder of the Integrative Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Buenos Aires and director of the Human Brain Project, ventures explanations for this apparent mystery, but more, he enfolds a few lessons on the controversial thesis that optimists and pessimists have different kinds of brains, much as conservatives and liberals are said to be wired differently. The author is an experimentalist with training in physics, supporting these softer interpretations with hard-edged results. One of the most on-point parts of the book is Sigman’s discussion of the application of neuroscience to general education. Dyslexia, by the author’s account, is more a phonological than a visual problem, leading him to declare, “you cannot read without being able to pronounce,” and adding, “the phonological awareness system can be stimulated before reading begins,” preparing children for reading with word games and other activities. In the larger sphere, learning a second language in very early childhood helps shatter prejudices, for even then, children discern accents and tend to trust those who sound more like them than linguistic outsiders do. The takeaway is that “revealing and understanding these predispositions can be a tool for changing them.” The idea that through its relative plasticity the child brain can be molded for the better is not new, but Sigman’s pointed examples of rational (and not so rational) decision-making, consciousness, mental states, and learning (“culture travels like a highly contagious virus”) are backed by the latest research.
There have been many recent books on the workings of the mind, and while this one doesn’t quite stand out with the best of the pack, it rewards readers with many useful insights.