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on 12 May 2007
This incredibly well-written book is a clear, concise introduction to the state-of-the art in neuroscience. The journey into the mystery of the brain requires no prior knowledge. Step by step, in a warm, humorous tone, we learn how much what we take to be an effortless daily experience is based upon the sophisticated, hidden ability of the brain to construct models of reality. Even our senses of agency and self-control - those issues that perplexed philosophers for millennia - are shown to be dependent on the brain's ability to link experiences and make inferences about the world. The evidence is a beautiful series of crystallized examples from the behaviour of patients with brain damage, and from behavioural and brain imaging experiments.

This book is unique because while highly appropriate and illuminating for complete novices in neuroscience, it is also detailed and deep enough to captivate readers with expertise in the field. Both types of readers will be enriched by the coherent picture this book draws of cognitive neuroscience, and what implications brain research has for our understanding of interpersonal interactions and the development of human culture.
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It's hard to resolve where the best place to encounter Chris Frith might be - a classroom, a pub, or a party. In this book, the last is set as a means of providing exchanges between a working cognitive neuroscientist and people from the humanities and other sciences - English and physics, in this case. Frith goes to some effort to show how many misconceptions about how the mind works still exist in our society. He wants to set those right, and does so splendidly in this book on the workings of the brain. With a style one might almost describe as jocular, Frith reveals how the brain deals with the world outside and within us.

Frith had the good fortune to enter the field as the new, non-intrusive methods of brain imaging were emerging. Big, cumbersome and expensive, these tools, the PET, fMRI and CAT scanning devices soon came into more widespread use. These machines could map the living brain, while patients could be queried or given tests to assist in determining which brain areas were active at a given time. Frith describes these tools as moving brain studies from a "soft" science to a "hard" science in which detailed measurements could be made. Previously, it was either guess-work, or brains could be analysed only after a patient's death.

What has emerged from these studies is a very serious challenge to what we call "reality" and our perception of it. The brain does many things without our realising it. Apart from the obvious ones like keeping the heart and lungs pumping, there is the issue of what we "see". We like to think that when we "look" at something or somebody, we are seeing a continuous image. That's simply not the case. Beyond the fact that the eye undergoes a rapid shifting motion called "saccading", it's also converting photons into electrical signals. The brain must interpret the incoming messages and make sense of them. When it finally sends a message to the frontal cortex, an "image" has been recorded and you are now in a position to react to it.

The many vagaries in the operation of the brain in creating the mind, lead many in the humanities to scorn cognitive neuroscience. Frith uses his English professor as a foil to challenge the value of his work. "You can't pin down the mind like a specimen in a display case", he has her intone. But Frith's work and that of the many researchers he cites, demonstrates the fallacy of believing that we are in control of our minds.

Vision is but one area where the brain must interpret input and build a result for you to understand. The brain has developed a number of tricks to help itself produce something meaningful from what the senses tell it. The chief resource in this mental technique is memory. From our earliest years, the brain has been recording and cataloguing various inputs to assist in the formation of what we think we perceive. A point that must be remembered through all this is that the catalog isn't something that the devices can pinpoint for us to analyse. Memory, though it has fairly well-defined pathways, is part of a very dynamic and elusive system. What it produces for our conscious use is highly arbitrary. The brain may serve up memory images almost as a whim. Very little of it is under our control, yet we continue to assert we are given "free will". Frith doesn't deny there's an element of will in how we think, but it's anything but "will" in an absolute sense. And we must be cautious about how free of constraints it is. Since the brain is faced with countless episodes of false information, such as optical illusions, those memories we depend upon as the foundation for decisions, "free will" comes close to being meaningless.

For the person new to the ideas and research being done in how the brain works, this book is the ideal starting point. It's invaluable for the concepts it introduces and explains - so far as is known, and does so in a compelling manner. While he chides the English teacher on the one hand, he pays attention to her comments as a lever for introducing a topic needing further explanation. And his explanations, while challenging some long-held philosophical notions, demonstrate how much we've learned, yet still need to know about the brain. A fine gift for a student seeking a career path. What we learn about the brain tells us a great deal about who we are. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 20 September 2007
This is a brilliant book on the human mind and brain, by a wise and influential researcher, who unusually is also a very charismatic and entertaining writer. It manages to be simultaneously serious/funny ;
questioning/didactic; philosophical/scientific; and to be forward-looking
yet while also giving a succinct historical overview of highlights from the past 30 years of research in neuropsychology and neuroscience, through to the latest breakthroughs in brain imaging. Essential reading for novices and experts alike.
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VINE VOICEon 11 March 2016
This book is awesome. I study cognitive psychology at university and texts like this are usually boring and read like a text book. This did not bore me in the slightest. I am so glad that I bought this because it had explanations in it that just cleared up any confusion I had about the subject. I found the author to have a very readable writing style and he could be very witty and funny. I'm glad there's someone out there who loves psychology just as much as I do and isn't afraid to show it!
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on 2 February 2009
This popular science book, written by one of the most prominent cognitive neuroscientists in the world, explores the current evidence of how our brains generate our mental image of ourselves and the world. He first outlines how our brains give us an image of ourselves and the world that can deviate frighteningly from reality. Sometimes this is simply because our heavily embedded ideas of our perceptions and beliefs are wrong, but sometimes problems arise due to brain damage. In the second second section, he centres on the brain as a prediction machine, which gives us the power to understand ourselves, our bodies and each other. The book is written extremely clearly, largely without the use of jargon, and although a tad dry in places, includes sufficiently exciting content to keep the reader engaged. Some attempts to make the book more popular worked well, such as occasional idiosyncratic and funny footer notes. I wished these would have taken a more prominent role, and he would have felt more at ease to make far more of these kinds of comments. However, Frith's imaginary conversations with a cynical and anti-scientific English professor feel more like an afterthought, and he could easily have made far more of the idea, had he wished. As a cognitive neuroscience researcher myself, I didn't really learn anything new, as Frith is largely reluctant to speculate on any ideas that haven't already been very firmly established, but I was nevertheless able to appreciate the coherence and intelligence of his explanations, which at times did allow me to view a well-trodden topic afresh. For a layperson, however, I can't think of a better introduction to the interface between the mind and brain than this book.
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on 4 February 2011
I bought the kindle version of this book. The content is easy to read both physically and intellectually, and presents a useful insight into the subject that could be readily followed up by using the extensive references provided.
However, the illustrations and photo plates cannot be appreciated in Kindle format. Also the text contains numerous spelling errors that look like "finger trouble" and I wonder if this is due to kindle-isation or to sloppy editing of the original.
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on 27 March 2009
This book brilliantly describes the view of the brain as a modeling machine, the place of our mind in the generated model, and the limitations of the mind with respect to the "real" world. Other writers have also touched on the model concept, but this is the first time I see it spelled out loud. This is a must read for anyone interested in the mind and brain relation!
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on 20 March 2015
A fascinating insight into how the brain works and how it fools us in to believing that we are actually experiencing "out there" out there rather than it all being in the mind. This compelling read is backed with sound scientific evidence and argument, but is narrated throughout with the writers humour.
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on 20 November 2011
An extremely well written, accessible introduction this fascinating topic. One of the best introductions to neuroscience for the general reader on the market.
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on 5 August 2008
Psychology 101 - that's the level of thinking of "MAKING UP THE MIND". Therefore, I couldn't find anything in it to rave about. In his book, Chris Frith offers a light-hearted account of several basic principles of neuropsychology. He provides examples of illusions and fallacies. He points out that much learning occurs by reward and punishment. Can anybody get excited about such rudimentary information? His main message is perhaps that the brain makes "models" of things, and that sometimes the models are wrong. He reasons that truth and progress can emerge from the models, but so can deception and mass delusions. So what? He ends the book by advising the reader to "just go back to the party and have fun". I feel that a well-informed reader probably should stay at the party from beginning to end, rather than waste her time in reading this vacuous book.
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