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Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain Hardcover – 17 November 2020

4.5 out of 5 stars 468 ratings

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  • Language : English
  • Hardcover : 192 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0358157145
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0358157144
  • Customer reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 468 ratings

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Review

"This short, concise, readable, thought-challenging view of the complex brain will pique the reader and puzzle the mind wondering what
reality really is."--San Francisco Book Review

"A deeply researched, compulsively readable, subtly philosophical tour through the human brain.... In just a few pages, Barrett dispels myths so deeply entrenched that many of us assumed they were indisputable scientific fact (goodbye, lizard brain!) And she does all of this with the effortless concision of a poet, not a word wasted.... [Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain] deserves to be read and re-read and then, just as important, to be thought about deeply."--Dan Pink

"Highly recommended, this smart pithy primer on the brain is fascinating."--Michael Pollan, via Twitter

"An excellent education in brain science...[Feldman Barrett] deftly employs metaphor and anecdote to deliver an insightful overview of her favorite subject... so short and sweet that most readers will continue to the 35-page appendix, in which the author delves more deeply, but with no less clarity, into topics ranging from teleology to the Myers-Briggs personality test to 'Plato's writings about the human psyche.' Outstanding popular science."--Kirkus, STARRED

"What about that 'three-pound blob between your ears'? In seven essays about the brain and a half-size one about its evolution...Barrett has crafted a well-written tribute to this wow-inducing organ."--Booklist

"[A] must-read science book. Neuroscientist Barrett takes readers on a journey from the first earthly creatures, through the musings of ancient philosophers, and to present-day neuroscience."--Discover Magazine

"Beautiful writing and sublime insights that will blow your mind like a string of firecrackers. If you want a rundown of the brain and its magic, start here."--David Eagleman, Stanford neuroscientist, New York Times bestselling author of Incognito and Livewired

"Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain reads like a novel--one whose main character is all of us. In fresh and lively prose, Barrett provides deep insight into what brains are for, how they operate and are programmed, how they create the 'reality' we experience, and how they ultimately produce our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Read this book! It will make you smarter about yourself, and your species."--Leonard Mlodinow, New York Times bestselling author of The Drunkard's Walk, Subliminal, and Elastic

"A radical and provocative look at a range of pervasive misconceptions, emerging discoveries, and enticing mysteries regarding our very nature as individuals and intertwined social beings. By illuminating our unimaginably complex, constantly changing brain/body networks, Barrett gets to the heart of the new understanding of who and what we are as creatures, and how much latitude and agency we have."--Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), author of Full Catastrophe Living and The Healing Power of Mindfulness

"Lisa Feldman Barrett is a pioneer in neuroscience and one of today's most provocative thinkers about the mind. Get ready to have yours blown."--Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take

"A smart and delightfully breezy look at the things most of us think we know about the brain, but don't."--Daniel Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness

"Barrett writes with a scientist's eye and a storyteller's heart. A must-read for anyone who has a brain."--Helen S. Mayberg, Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

"One of the best short, whirlwind introductions to the human brain I've ever read....[Feldman Barrett] is one of the most brilliant and bold thinkers and scientists I've ever had the pleasure of speaking with."
- Lex Fridman, Lex Fridman Podcast​

About the Author

LISA FELDMAN BARRETT, PhD, is a University Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, with appointments at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in psychiatry and radiology. She received a National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award for her groundbreaking research on emotion in the brain, and is an elected member of the Royal Society of Canada. She lives outside Boston.

Q: How does your brain work?

A: During much of the last century, scientists thought your brain worked sort of like a muscle – the world stimulates it, and it reacts. The stimulation would come from the outside world in the form of sights, sounds, smells, and other sense data. But scientists have learned that brain’s billions of neurons are continuously in conversation, guessing what might happen next and preparing your body in advance to deal with it. It’s issuing predictions that launch what you do and see and feel, but it happens so quickly that you feel like you’re reacting!

Here’s one way to think about it: From the moment you are born until the moment that you die, your brain is locked inside a dark, silent box called your skull. It continuously receives scraps of data from the outside world, like waves of light (from your eyes), chemicals (through your nose and on your tongue), and changes in air pressure (in your ears). Your brain has to use these scraps of information to figure out how to keep your body alive and well Is that CRASH outside caused by a racoon in your trash can, someone dropping a box on the ground, or a car bumping into another car outside your home? Is that tightness in your chest a sore muscle from lifting something heavy, a feeling of anxiety, or a sign that you might be having heart trouble? In every moment, it must figure out what caused the current barrage of sense data and what to do about it, using your memories of past experiences. So your brain isn’t reactive, it’s predictive.

Q: I’ve heard that the human brain has an ancient area, called the “lizard brain,” that can hijack the rational part of the brain (the neocortex) and cause me to say & do things that are ill-advised. Is this true?

A: No. The only animal that has a lizard brain is a lizard. The so-called lizard brain in humans is a folk tale that was popularized in the 1970s, though its roots stretch back to Plato in Ancient Greece. Scientists in the early and mid-1900s examined a bunch of animal brains and determined that the human brain had parts that other mammal and reptile brains don’t, crafting the narrative of a layered brain. Supposedly, the brain’s core contains reptilian parts that give us instincts, wrapped in newer mammalian parts that give us emotions, wrapped in human parts that give us rationality. This story, called the triune brain, says the human brain evolved in layers like a birthday cake, where the topmost layer, the icing, handles rationality.

Since the 1970s, however, scientists have been able to compare brain cells by their genetic markers, and it turns out that mice, rats, dogs, cats, horses, and every other mammalian species studied so far (and possibly the brains of fish, lizards, and birds, too ) follow the same manufacturing plan. Basically, you have the same brain plan as a bloodsucking lamprey.

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