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Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life [Paperback]

Steven Johnson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 May 2005
BRILLIANTLY EXPLORING TODAY'S CUTTING-EDGE BRAIN RESEARCH, "MIND WIDE OPEN" IS AN UNPRECEDENTED JOURNEY INTO THE ESSENCE OF HUMAN PERSONALITY, ALLOWING READERS TO UNDERSTAND THEMSELVES AND THE PEOPLE IN THEIR LIVES AS NEVER BEFORE.Using a mix of experiential reportage, personal storytelling, and fresh scientific discovery, Steven Johnson describes how the brain works -- its chemicals, structures, and subroutines -- and how these systems connect to the day-to-day realities of individual lives. For a hundred years, he says, many of us have assumed that the most powerful route to self-knowledge took the form of lying on a couch, talking about our childhoods. The possibility entertained in this book is that you can follow another path, in which learning about the brain's mechanics can widen one's self-awareness as powerfully as any therapy or meditation or drug.In "Mind Wide Open, " Johnson embarks on this path as his own test subject, participating in a battery of attention tests, learning to control video games by altering his brain waves, scanning his own brain with a $2 million fMRI machine, all in search of a modern answer to the oldest of questions: who am I?Along the way, Johnson explores how we "read" other people, how the brain processes frightening events (and how we might rid ourselves of the scars those memories leave), what the neurochemistry is behind love and sex, what it means that our brains are teeming with powerful chemicals closely related to recreational drugs, why music moves us to tears, and where our breakthrough ideas come from.Johnson's clear, engaging explanation of the physical functions of the brain reveals not only the broad strokes of our aptitudes and fears, our skills and weaknesses and desires, but also the momentary brain phenomena that a whole human life comprises. Why, when hearing a tale of woe, do we sometimes smile inappropriately, even if we don't want to? Why are some of us so bad at remembering phone numbers but brilliant at recognizing faces? Why does depression make us feel stupid?To read "Mind Wide Open" is to rethink family histories, individual fates, and the very nature of the self, and to see that brain science is now personally transformative -- a valuable tool for better relationships and better living.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner Book Company; Reprint edition (3 May 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743241665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743241663
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14.4 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,455,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

David Shenkauthor of "The Forgetting: Alzheimer's: Portrait of an Epidemic"What good is living in an age of discovery if only a handful of people understand what's being discovered? With this book, Steven Johnson builds an extraordinary bridge between today's trailblazing neuroscientists and the rest of us. His mind-opening and potentially life-changing insight is that virtually anyone can now learn enough about brain chemistry and circuitry to personally explore -- and perhaps even reshape -- the contours of his or her own mind. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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I'm gazing into a pair of eyes, scanning the arch of the brow, the hooded lids, trying to gauge whether they're signaling defiance or panic. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My head hurts 7 Jan 2006
By M. GILL
Format:Paperback
Having read 'Everything Bad Is Good For You' by the same author straight through in under one week, my expectations were set suitably high for this book. It is, however, one of those books that is hard to read more than a paragraph at a time as there is so much to take in; lots of scientific terms, data, theories - revelations even. Essentially, it's about how technology can be used to improve the performance of the human brain by creating a clearer understanding of how the different areas, chemicals, neurons, etc. interact to create, well, our everyday view of the world. A new insight into the inner workings of the mind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I found this book fascinating. I knew a little about how the brain works through my work as a teacher, but this took it further and in interesting directions. I was particularly fascinated by the idea of different 'attentions' and how it is not as straightforward as you think when you tell somebody to 'pay attention'. I read this as an e-book and am now going to buy the paperback to read again.
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By Robert Morris TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I read this book before Steven Johnson's later works, The Ghost Map (2006) and Where Good Ideas Come From (2011) and then re-read recently, before composing this commentary. Because Johnson is a very serious thinker with an almost insatiable curiosity, he devotes uncommon time and thought to what he writes and draws heavily on a wealth of secondary sources that he duly acknowledges. For this book, there are generously annotated notes (Pages 217-255) and an extensive bibliography (Pages 257-262). Other reviews have offered insightful reasons for holding this book in high regard. I agree with those reasons and see no need to recycle them now.

Here in Dallas, there is a Farmer's Market near the downtown area where several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that same spirit, I offer a selection of brief passages representative of the high quality of Johnson's skills.

"Unlike so many technoscie3ntific advances, the brain sciences and their imaging technologies are, almost by definition, a kind of mirror. They capture what our brains are doing and reflect that information back to us. You gaze into the glass, and the reflection says to you, `Here is your brain.' This book is the story of my journey into that mirror." (Page 17)

"The attention system works as a kind of assembly line: higher-level functions are built on top of lower-level functions. So if you have problems encoding, you'll almost certainly have problems with supervisory attention. When people notice attention impairments, they're usually detecting problems with the focus/execute or supervisory levels, but the original source of the problem may well be farther down the chain, or it might be localized to a particular sensory channel.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  57 reviews
115 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Many Openings 12 Feb 2004
By P. Keating - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Mind Wide Open is a remarkable, very entertaining, and complex read. This is not a 'science' book; nor is it a self-help manual. It is about all of us and each of us; about the human condition that we experience each moment, day, and life. It is a precise expose of the marriage between our mind and our soul, told in the voice of discovery. Perhaps the best testimony that I can give is this: as I read Mind Wide Open, I could not stop thinking about the many and very different people that I wanted to recommend it to. Whether you are a poet or a parent, a teacher or a tradesman, this book will enthrall you.
Part of this is the the author's style. Johnson is funny, personal, and earnest. He alternates between sharing his own musings and vulnerablities and recounting what he has carefully learned and experienced. When you read this book, you may feel the astonishing sensations that I did; your mind thinking about your mind within the context of your own experience and Johnson's perspectives. This was a visceral experience for me.
As much as Mind Wide Open will stimulate you, it is also a book that begs to be read more than once. Rarely do I read a book that I want to completely re-read again; I suspect that many others will feel the same.
I must admit to having scant, if any, interest in 'brain science' before reading this book. That has changed. What lies in our head not only influences our thinking; it catalogues our evolution and our pursuit of life's meaning. Mind Wide Open is a book that allows the reader to understand him/herself in ways that we have never explored before.
This is a superb book. I highly enjoyed it, I look forward to enjoying it again, and I give it my highest recommendation.
195 of 217 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Little substance 11 April 2005
By Sasquatch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Let me begin by saying I read this book from cover to cover. I'll also mention that I'm a grad student in neuroscience. This book contained a few moderately interesting insights, but overall covered astonishingly little information. It's so full of the author's anecdotes about who he met and how he came to his conclusions that it leaves little room for his actual theses. It's a lot of flash and little substance. It's definitely well-written though.

There are so many incredible things to learn about neuroscience that are accessible to non-scientists, yet he focused most of the book on electroencephalograms (EEG), which is ancient technology and alone yields little information about the brain. He drew broad conclusions from specific data and consistently overinterpreted results. This is not surprising considering he has no degree. I should have noticed this before I bought the book. He's like the Ken Burns of neuroscience. You can't study neuroscience part-time for a year or two and expect to write a deep book on it. It's like trying to fly a space shuttle after a summer internship at NASA.

So in conclusion, if you know nothing about neuroscience, you'll probably get something out of this book. Don't waste your time on it though, because if you want to have your mind blown, read "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat".
72 of 78 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great start and a refreshing perspective 25 Feb 2004
By Mark Rockwell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Johnson does a good job of taking concepts that could potentially be very confusing, and lays them out in an easy to read format. He does a great job of relating chemical and electrical activities in the brain with events in everyone's everyday life.
Mind Wide Open is a great book if you're new to the field of psychology or simply aren't too familiar with the actual chemical workings of the brain. The detail in the main text isn't all that deep but the end notes make up for much of the "overlooked" information. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars because while it was informative and quite revealing I think that Johnson slightly oversimplified the issues at hand. If you come into this book with anything much above a beginners understanding of brain biochemistry you won't walk away with any new ideas.
I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a beginners guide to theories of how the brain functions.
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This is Your Brain on Drugs 5 Aug 2005
By Lukas Jackson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I decided to check out Steven Johnson's "Mind Wide Open" after reading an article of his in Discovery magazine, where he claims that video games can be more mentally stimulating than reading books. As a huge GTA: San Andreas fan and reader, part of me was intrigued by the idea, part of me saw it as a blatant ploy for the couch-potato South Park generation.

I would recommend this book as an extremely breezy read for those curious about what's going on in brain science. Johnson describes how our brains are always on endogenous drugs, be they the love potion oxytocin, the stressor cortisol, the confidence-building serotonin, etc. He also recounts some pretty interesting experiments where his mind is connected to electrodes and fMRI machines and his mental processes monitored. I have to admit, though, I wanted something a little meatier and substantive about the human mind, and wasn't quite sure if the book was limited by the state of brain science or Johnson's attempt to simplify for the everyman. Most people are aware that the mind is a neurochemical network, so there isn't anything particularly revelatory here.

Johnson rarely gets abstract. He discusses the "qualia" of consciousness only to sidestep it. (I found myself wondering why the metaphysical qualia of consciousness is even necessary; the illusion of a unified "I" must have some evolutionary advantages over a machine-like processor.) At the end he tackles Freud, but I found his attempts somewhat simplistic against the godfather of psychoanalysis.

In sum, while an interesting read, the book stretches out a little bit of information a long way. A lot of this information could have been in one magazine article. And I did fear that Johnson was trying to dumb it down a bit; I wouldn't mind more intensive scrutiny of the actual neurochemical components of the mind.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable popular science writer, but gets carried away. 8 Mar 2005
By algo41 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Johnson is a remarkable popular science writer, with a talent for language and metaphor comparable to that of a very good novelist. He is also very bright, objective, personable and does his research well. Even when I was familiar with a particular subject area, I learned a lot or understood things better. While my background is better than some, this is a book accessible to all. Johnson's objective for "Mind Wide Open" is to help the reader live a better life by providing the kind of understanding that leads to more aware self-examination - not the usual kind of objective for a popular science work. I believe this objective, as well as Johnson's own enthusiasms, may have led him a little astray. The chapters I liked least were on bio-feedback (Johnson is on the board of a bio-feedback company, as I learned from one of his footnotes), and functional brain imaging. Both chapters centered on Johnson's personal experiences, not as a way to explain science, as elsewhere, but as some kind of personal adventure which is supposed to demonstrate the potential of these tools for generating self-awareness. The rest of the book is so interesting, I really begrudge the loss of what could have been in 2 additional chapters. Mind Wide Open is particularly strong in its discussion of memory and emotions (fear, love) and on the role of the body's owns drugs, which cocaine and the like mimic. As part of his summing up, Johnson has a wonderful discussion of how Freud can be updated to provide a modern theory of psychology.
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