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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Neuroscientists, who study the highly complex nervous system, are not noted for their humour but the author of this excellent book is an exception. Most of the nervous system action takes place in the brain. Woody Allen said the brain was his second favourite organ, Every secon, the author tells us, we are bombarded by information. This has now been dramatically increased by emails and texts. This is hardly new, however Levitkin examines what effect this is having on our brains and asks are we being overloaded by an information explosion? He is well qualified to write this as he has a PhD in psychology, and is currently a Professor of psychology, behavioural neuroscience and music at McGill a prestigious Canadian university. Previous books by him have examined the brain and music, all have been acclaimed.

That we are becoming addicted to information, much of it trite and useless, is beyond dispute as a train journey, a meal out or watching people walking about feverishly clutching a mobile phone to the ear will prove. Phonemania has made many of us like Swiss Army knives. Multitasking is now commonplace. The author, a cognitive scientist, believes multitasking is a 'diabolical illusion' . What it does is to overtax the brain thus preventing this remarkable organ from resting or daydreaming. He argues that computers have not freed us from drudgery, they have instead exposed us to infomania. Every day during our leisure time, each of us processes 34 gigabytes or 100,000 words. The world's 21,274 tv stations produce 85,000 hours of programming every day. On average, we watch 5 hours of tv a day. YouTube uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour. Computer gaming consumes more bytes than all other media put together. In brief, we have made a world with 300,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces of human-made information. The key problem we now face is how to separate the trivial from the important, and this is very tiring. Neurons are living cells, they demand a great deal of oxygen and glucose to survive, and when tired make us feel fatigued. The danger is that our attentional filter can become overwhelmed. That is why leaders employ subordinates to narrow the filter for them. The overpaid sports agent frees the player to concentrate on his or her game. The chauffeur relieves you of the worry and stress of driving. This author suggests how we can deal with overload. His tips are fascinating.

Levitin reminds us that the increase in scientific information alone is staggering. In 1700, a science graduate knew as much as as any expert today. Now even a PhD in Biology will not mean you know all that is known in that subject. It is, of course, making research in all major disciplines much more difficult. For example, research into the nervous system of a squid attracts over 30,000 research articles on that topic on Google alone. Books and articles on the Great War amount to many thousands and increase every year.

Levitkin quotes research by other leading neuroscientists to demonstrate that our brains are not wired to do multitasking. Those who believe otherwise are he saysl deluded. Multitasking, he argues, is in fact harmful for it prevents our brain from recalibrating.

Surprisingly, Levitkin polnts out that many leading business figures still prefer pen and paper instead of electronic devices. Many famous writers, such as JK Rowling, have said the same. The author says he uses pen and paper when undertaking his research. He supports these preferences with reference to recent research. He adds that our brain takes in more if we read books in paper form than if we read it on an e book reader. Retention is also improved. Studies also indicate that work quality is improved if people do one thing at a time. Clearly, to do this would pose a massive problem for many employers and employees.

The author is at pains to stress that technology is not immoral or harmful, it is how we use it. Overuse causes problems such as tiredness and high stress. We become far less creative. The clear message is switch off your phone, stop checking your email every thirty seconds and avoid twitter.

A thought provoking book of great importance. I am amazed that anyone can find it boring. Human ingenuity has devised systems to free our wonderful brains of clutter. All are designed to improve the brain, or shed some of its key functions to external sources, memory being one. But the result is we are now in danger of becoming addicted to and prisoners of these systems. Hippocrates said in the 5th century that: 'only when the brain is quiet can man think properly'.

A knowledge of biology and psychology, is useful, but is not essential, for understanding and enjoying this remarkable and ground breaking book.

Highly recommended.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2015
I wish I had more time to write a full review. It's marvellous , accessible, humorous. It has 'blown' my mind never mind help me organise it. I work as a children, s social worker and have read many papers and texts based in neuro science but none as pleasurable as this.
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40 of 47 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 September 2014
Clutter can fill up our minds the same way it fills up closets, drawers, cabinets, attics, and basements of residences. The problem is even more serious in offices, given all the places in which clutter can accumulate. Climate-controlled storage has become a multi-billion dollar business in the United States precisely because so many people have so much "stuff" that there is insufficient room for it anywhere else.

Don't blame the human mind. It is what the brain does and is remarkably well-organized but our use of it is certainly not. Pretend for a moment that you are behind the wheel of a Ferrari F12berlinetta, a vehicle that combines superior design and performance. Start the engine and begin to drive it. Oh, I forgot to mention, you don't know how to use the accelerator, brakes, and steering wheel. The challenge is to understand what this magnificent vehicle can do and then master the skills necessary to take full advantage of those capabilities. I realize that citing the hypothetical situation of driving a Ferrari F12berlinetta without any control of its speed or direction is a bit of a stretch but the fact remains that many human beings feel overwhelmed by the velocity and complexity of their lives. Cluttered thinking results in a cluttered life.

Daniel Levitin wrote this book to help as many people as possible to meet this challenge, to increase their understanding of (a) the human mind and (b) how effective use of it can help them "recapture a sense of order and thereby regain the hours of time wasted by a disorganized use of mind." He notes two of the most compelling properties of the human brain and its design: "richness and associative access. Richness refers to the theory that a large number of things you're ever thought of or experienced are still in there, somewhere. Associative access means that your thoughts can be accessed in a number of different ways by semantic or perceptual associations." These are but two of countless functions and capabilities of the human mind. "The cognitive neuroscience of memory and attention -- our improved understanding of the brain, its evolution, and limitations -- can help us to better cope with a world when more and more of us feel we're running fast just to stand still."

The best business books tend to be research-driven and that is certainly true of this one. Daniel Levitin provides 83 pages of annotated "Notes" (Pages 397-481), a clear indication that the abundance of information and insights he provides has a rock-solid foundation of authoritative sources.

These are among the dozens of passages of special interest to me, also listed so as to indicate the scope of Levitin's coverage:

o The Inside History of Cognitive Overload (Pages 3-13)
o Information Overload, Then and Now (13-32)

Note: How serious has the problem become? According to Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, "From the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind generated five exabytes of data. Now we produce five exabytes [begin italics] every two days [end italics]...and the pace is rapidly accelerating."

o How Attention and Memory Work (37-45)
o The Neurochemistry of Work (45-48)
o Where Memory Comes From (48-54)
o Where Things Can Start to Get Better (77-87)
o Home Is Where I Want to Be (106-112)
o How Humans Connect Now (113-120)
o Aren't Modern Social Relations Too Complex to Organize? (120-135)
o When We Procrastinate (195-201)
o Creative Time (201-215)
o Thinking Straight About Probabilities (220-230)
o How We Create Value (268-276)
o The Future of the Organized Mind (329-337)
o Where You Get Your Information (365-369)
o Browsing and Serendipity (376-383)

Levitin acknowledges, "There is no one system that will work for everyone -- we are each unique -- but in [this book] there are general principles that anyone can apply [begin italics] in their own way [end italics] to recapture a sense of order and to regain the hours of lost time spent trying to overcome the disorganized mind...Getting organized can bring us all to the next level in our lives. It's the human condition to fall prey to old habits. We must consciously look at areas of our lives that need cleaning up, and then methodically and proactively do so. And then keep doing it...The key to change is having faith that when we get rid of the old, something or someone even more magnificent will take its place."

Long ago, I began to realize that our lives are the results of the decisions we make, for better or worse. Also, that making no decision is itself a decision, usually with consequences and sometimes with serious consequences. I am deeply grateful to Daniel Levitin for all that I have learned from this book, especially during a second reading when preparing to compose this brief commentary. It seems ironic -- and is perhaps a paradox -- that we need the human mind to enrich our understanding of the human mind. The material in this book can help anyone to make better decisions about what's important and what isn't so that better decisions can be made about what to keep and what to eliminate.

It really is true: Cluttered thinking results in a cluttered life. The choice is ours.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2015
Started off well, interesting premise and so on. However, after the third chapter I found myself getting bored, parts of it are very repetitive, almost as thought they've padded out the book to justify its size and cost. The key ideas and concepts could really be cut down into a text half the length and be just as entertaining.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2014
A brilliant summary of current research in the mind, consciousness, and cognition. If you want a thorough intro to the subject, look no further.
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on 7 July 2015
I often wonder why I, as an information junkie, am averse to a lot of the electric paraphernalia that others fetishize: there is too much of it and many of the gadgets are actually gimmicks, a matter that suits, say, Apple very nicely indeed it seems to me. And need I mention the ambiguity of the apple? Adam and Eve caused death to enter Eden by biting on it. We seem to be doing likewise, more fool us: a lot of it is tech for the sake of tech, a hanging onto fashion, no matter how unnecessary it really is, and engendering slavish purchasing and following questionable trends. As a psychologist Levitin is well placed to say why this is so and how we seem to be blindly following, into a new, 21st century servitude; the rise of the machines, in the guise of convenience when it often is not really that at all. I, like J.K. Rowling, favour writing in longhand quite often and there is an interesting relationship behind my preference that Levitin understands. Yes the book should and could have been trimmed to two thirds of the length. Perhaps that is his academics' predeliction for recapitulation, characteristic of the lecture hall. No doubt that he has assimilated much useful information and his points are well taken. A stimulating book, perhaps best read in lecture-sized amounts.
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on 30 July 2015
Considering all the gushing praise all over the cover of this book, I expected something much better. 'More insights per page...' - where?! This book contains approximately 5 good points in 500 pages, and the rest is repetitive and obvious. For a popular science book I would expect far more intellectual/stimulating revelations than this contains. Most of it was pointing out very obvious things anyone with a brain could have worked out - if you're thinking about a few things at once, you may forget something. Wow! There are about twenty pages all repeatedly forcing the idea that you should write everything on index cards - is Mr Levitin being sponsored by a stationery company? Where was his editor, to point out all the huge chunks of repetition and uninformative paragraphs? Very disappointed and surprised at Penguin's audacity at putting such misleading quotes on the cover.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 11 September 2014
Review courtesy of www.subtleillumination.com

Around 80% of Americans surveyed remember where they were on September 11th when they watched horrifying images of an airplane crashing into the first tower, and then, about 20 minutes later, a second plane hitting another tower. All of these, Levitin points out, are false memories. Clips of the first plane took 24 hours to reach broadcast television, so if you have any memory of seeing it on the day, it’s a false one.

Why does it matter? Levitin argues that without understanding the structure of how our brain works, we will be unable to organize our thoughts or our lives, or even understand when we can’t rely on our own memories. Knowing that when we try to remember something, our brain puts it in a rehearsal loop that prevents new memories from being formed, for example, tells us to carry something with us to take notes, whether smartphone or index card, so that we can avoid the loop. This reflects his most fundamental lesson: that though our brains are amazing, they are also limited, and the more we can shift the burden of organization to external devices, the better off we’ll be. In 2011, Americans took in the equivalent of 175 newspapers worth of information beyond what they did in 1986 (5 times as much), so whether you start taking notes in your smartphone, carrying index cards around with idea per index card, or just installing permanent hooks for your keys next to your doorway, it’s worth some thought.

It’s a great idea for a book, and it’s stocked full of interesting facts (who knew that in the 1800s lobster was so plentiful that they were ground up and fed to prisoners, and that servants would demand to be fed it no more than twice a week? We really screwed up that fishery). Unfortunately, it’s not as strong on insight. It’s interesting to know the different filters our mind uses to decide what to pay attention to, but the bottom line is focus on what you’re doing and turn off email and Facebook, which isn’t really a shock. It can also feel a bit repetitive: after the first half, he seems to run out of clear links between biological architecture and organizational plans, and the book wanders a little. Still, if you’re looking for interesting facts and fun ideas to try to organize your mind, the book makes for an extremely entertaining, not to mention informative, read. A good choice for the summer.

Disclosure: I read The Organized Mind as an advance reader copy, courtesy of Penguin.
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on 9 June 2015
Brilliantly laid out, concise (with just enough repetition to get the message!), scientific and practical at the same time. It will put context in what you were thinking, preaching and possibly practicing re: self-management.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 10 March 2015
For a book entitled "The Organised Mind" pity that its layout fails to deliver the primary reason why I bought the book in the first place.
As a layman I found the neuroscience chunks readable and mildly interesting.
The main "flaw" is that where he gives useful tips they are "buried" in the text. Most of these are common sense anyway.
Cost of the book not justified by what it delivers - unless you are really "in" to this kind of stuff.
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