Neuroscience For Us All: Three Books

Neuroscience is the backbone of the following three recommended books (some humor included!).

I. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live–and How You Can Change Them (2012) by Richard Davidson (with contribution by science writer Sharon Begley)

Neuroscientist Davidson addresses the concept of us each having an “emotional fingerprint” based on where we fall on six different continuums:

  • Resilience–recovery from adversity
  • Outlook–duration of positive emotion
  • Social Intuition–sensitivity to social cues
  • Self-awareness–awareness of internal signals
  • Sensitivity to Context–ability to modulate emotions according to context
  • Attention–how focused or scattered

Selected quote: “Just as each per­son has a unique fin­ger­print and a unique face, each of us has a unique emo­tional pro­file, one that is so much a part of who we are that those who know us well can often pre­dict how we will respond to an emo­tional chal­lenge.”

Jack Kornfield, Ph.D. calls it “(t)he best book I know on how to use the exciting discoveries of neuroscience to change your life. A fabulous read – a scientific adventure story like Sherlock Holmes meeting Watson and Crick with the Dalai Lama as their advisor.”

II.  Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To (2016) by Dean Burnett

If an “irreverent guide to the brain” is what you’re seeking, says Kirkus Reviews, this neuroscience book by Burnett may be it.

Burnett professes the following about the brain: “It’s undeniably impressive, but it’s far from perfect, and these imperfections influence everything humans say, do and experience.”

Some of the interesting conclusions by Burnett (with sources in parentheses):

Less intelligent people are often more confident. (Kirkus)

The Myers-Briggs personality test may not be that useful. (Kirkus)

Motion sickness is caused by the brain reading the mismatch between seeing a landscape move and the body feeling still. (Publishers Weekly)

Anger can reduce stress. (Leyla Sanai, Independent)

The brain often chooses being liked over doing what we believe to be correct. (Independent)

We tend to embellish our memories if we’re telling someone about it. (Terry Gross interview, NPR)

Anything longer than a minute is long-term memory. (NPR)

An interesting point made to Terry Gross (NPR) about the post Burnett considers the most controversial ever on his blog: Not transgender issues or immigration or same-sex marriage, all of which he’s written about, but “whether or not you should put milk in your tea before the water or after.”

Publishers Weekly: “…[Burnett] packs an incredible amount of information into an accessible package with this breezy, charming collection of pop neuroscience musings on ‘how the human brain does its own thing despite everything the modern world can throw at it.’”

III. The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity (2015) by Norman Doidge

Psychiatrist and neuroscience expert Doidge is on the cutting edge of the study of neuroplasticity. Asked by Leigh SalesABC.netto define the term, Doidge broke it down: “Well, neuro is for neurons, the nerve cells in the brain, and plasticity means adaptable, changeable and modifiable. And neuroplasticity is that property of the brain that allows it to change its structure and function in response to activity and mental experience.”

Although Doidge explains in The Brain’s Way of Healing that there are “critical periods of plasticity in early life” he also says “(w)e’re plastic until we die.”

In The Guardian Doidge listed five ways to improve brainpower. Click on the link for details:

  1. Walk two miles a day…
  2. Learn a new dance (or language or musical instrument)…
  3. Do serious brain exercises…
  4. Pay close attention to your voice…
  5. Get the rest your body requests…

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