An animated introduction to the neuroscience of sensory perception with broad appeal to artists, musicians, and other...

OUR SENSES

AN IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE

You don’t need a brain to sense what’s going on around you—though it helps.

Consciousness may be reserved for creatures with more brainpower than paramecia possess, but there are still at least 100 million microbial species that can process sensory information about their environments. “So why all the fuss about brains?” asks genomics researcher DeSalle (co-author: Welcome to the Microbiome, 2015, etc.), curator of the American Museum of Natural History. It’s a good question, one answer to which is that information about how we sense is most often the product of neuroscientific research. Such research tells us, for instance, that in the resting state, our brains trundle along at about 70 millivolts, while when they’re agitated, they go up by 40 millivolts or so, a matter of “action potential” that has bearing on how the nervous, sensory, and motor systems interact. Given that there are 6,393 synapses connecting the 279 cells of the nematode nervous system, our own electronic wiring scheme begins to look impossibly complex. There, again, neuroscience has mapped out how sensory information arrives in the human brain and how it travels along neural pathways depending on what kind it is—if visual, for instance, along “nerve cells coming from the eye [that] are bundled into rather large neural structures, the optic nerves.” There are no end of possibilities for going haywire, but amazingly, we get it right most of the time. DeSalle’s text is written at a high level of scientific sophistication, requiring scientific literacy to follow the argument. Even so, he is light-handed enough to use Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel’s this-amp-goes-to-11 shtick to explain “crossmodality,” and he peppers his text with nice bits of learned trivia, such as the different color perception systems of monkeys and human artists, the lack of balance in tree sloths, and the like.

An animated introduction to the neuroscience of sensory perception with broad appeal to artists, musicians, and other consumers and generators of brainpower.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-300-23019-2

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

Did you like this book?

more