Mind Wide Open

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Mind Wide Open By Steven Johnson Penguin pound;17.99

Science writing gets better all the time. Steven Johnson's "travelogue from the frontiers of human brain science", as renowned scientist Steven Pinker terms it, buzzes with snappy explanations of all kinds of new ideas, from the role of hormones in personality to how much of our activity is stored in physical memories beyond conscious control. The location of functions within brain networks; the role of laughter in forming human bonds; how to use neurofeedback to make your own reactions more useful: all these topics and more are covered in entertaining, anecdotal style that masks the quantity of reading behind the information.

Bags of references to follow up and curious facts to share. For instance, the brain can easily encode only seven or eight items such as numbers into memory at a time, which is why phone numbers are broken down into short sequences. But, this can be overcome by turning numbers into something else, for instance, your birthday plus six numbers would still be seven. In this, as so much else, cleverness lies in understanding the limits of one's own stupidity. Open wide, now.

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