Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain Hardcover – 17 November 2020
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"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
"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
A conversation with Lisa Feldman Barrett, author of Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain
Q: Why do I have a brain?
A: Brain’s didn’t evolve so you can think, feel or see. They evolved to control bodies. Everything your brain does – think, feel, see, hear, etc. -- it does in the service of controlling your body. This is your brain’s most important job. Understanding this illuminates mysteries like: How are your mind and body linked? How does chronic stress seep under the skin and make you sick? Why are physical illnesses like heart disease and Parkinson’s disease so similar to mental illnesses like depression? And why there is a growing epidemic of depression and anxiety around the world?
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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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
"Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain" is divided into two main parts: The Lessons and the Appendix. The Lessons are written in a conversational style that is easy to read and understand. Her examples are very useful and well presented. The Lessons can be read by anyone, whether they have a background in science or not. The Appendix gives scientific justification for the conclusions in the Lessons. A reader does not need to read the Appendix to benefit fro the Lessons, but I think it added a lot of useful information. So, my recommendation is to read the corresponding portion of the Appendix immediately after that Lesson, rather than reading all Lessons and then the whole Appendix.
The topics in this book are very interesting. They will help you understand how your brain works and how much our understanding of the brain has improved in recent years. So, read it, and read it soon, because in a few years, more advancements will be made, and Dr. Barrett will need to write a new book.
Perhaps the book’s greatest point of distinction, however, is the author’s clear explanation of what science is and is not. And it could not be timelier. You can’t turn on the television or click on an internet news site these days without encountering the debate. “Follow the science,” which is a sentiment I strongly share, particularly when it comes to pandemics, is often bandied about without a clear understanding of what it really means.
Not so long ago the words science and philosophy, the latter of which many consider not to be a science at all, were synonymous. One of the most important works in modern science, written by Sir Isaac Newton in 1687, actually used the word philosophy in its title.
Science is not a body of knowledge or a simple set of irrefutable facts. It is a methodology for interpreting the reality around us. Or, as Feldman Barrett notes, “Scientists normally try to avoid saying that something is fact or is definitely true or false. In the real world, facts have some probability of being true or false in a particular context.” Or in a quote she attributes to Henry Gee, “science is a process of quantifying doubt.”
As a result, while this book provides a completely different view of the brain than most of us probably hold, I doubt even the author would claim it to be definitive or exhaustive. It marks a milestone along a very long path that is sure to become even more fascinating the further along it we travel.
You can read the book in a few hours. But you will think about it (although perhaps not in the way you have previously thought of thought) for much, much longer than that.