Are you an Egghead? The Instant Egghead Guide to the Mind

I am an unabashed lover of Scientific American. Well, ok, I’m also a grad student. So I can’t AFFORD Scientific American. But luckily, Scientific American has podcasts! There’s a regular weekly one that is around 40 minutes long, and then there are daily ones, called ’60-second science’. 60-second science represents the latest science tidbits as they come out, and, most endearing to Sci, they cover the good, the bad, and the weird. So I was very excited when I found out that Scientific American, specifically 60-second science, was putting out a BOOK! And when I found out that is was about BRAINS, and that I could review it, I got even happier.
And it’s got a forward by Steve Mursky, who does the main Scientific American podcast. That is a sexy, sexy guy.
And HINT: If you read to the bottom, there could be something good for you in it!!

So what IS the “Instant Egghead Guide to the Mind”? It’s basically what Sci would like to do with her life (and her blog) were she not so incredibly verbose (yes, I know that I can’t talk about anything without writing a freakin’ novel. I think we should all sit back, relax, and think of it as a charming personality quirk). Each two-page segment is devoted to a different aspect of the brain, everything from the different lobes to the concept of personality. Throughout about 240 pages of content, you end up with a very basic guide to the brain. I even learned some stuff I didn’t know!
This book is definitely well-recommended for those who aren’t in science, and just interested in finding out stuff about the brain. I think books like these are great avenues to get science and the latest in research out there, read, and understood by those who may not be deep in the field. The Egghead guide offers very brief summaries of each aspect of the brain, and then devotes a paragraph to the most recent research. Finally, each tiny segment ends with “cocktail party tidbits”, little bits of information that you will probably only use if you’re a really geek at a cocktail party, but which are still really interesting to know, and which help to pull the reader in.
Unfortunately, while the book can cover a lot of big ideas simply and well, some of them end up having to be a little too simplified just to fit on the page. Autism doesn’t get a lot of explanation, and most of drug abuse falls under “other drugs”. Depression and bipolar disorder even get put in a single two-page spread together. Given the large amount of press these issues get, as well as the complicated debates that surround them, maybe two pages just isn’t enough. And because they have to fit so much into so little, some of the explanations skim over some of the big assumptions in neuroscience, which means that you may not REALLY get what they’re talking about unless…you’re a neuroscientist.
Another problem is that this book will not age well. More advances are made in neuroscience every day, which would make it hard enough to keep up with, but the book also makes a lot of references to current issues (such as the war in Iraq, and the movie Doctor Dolittle) which may not have such strong associations a few years from now. And of course, the latest and greatest discoveries in neuroscience may be eclipsed as early as next month. But from the way it is presented, I have a feeling there may be more than one Guide to the Mind, which might update sections as new stuff comes out (and hopefully update the pop culture references as well).
This book did give me a lot of good ideas, including a suggestion for…another section in the book. One of the things people find fascinating about the brain is the stuff we can do to ourselves. With all the tidbits on brain function, why not include a section on “training your brain”? This would include things like advice to do Sudoku puzzles in the elderly, or turning the light on when you get up in the morning to stimulate wakefulness. Many people want to find out about the brain so they can play with what they have, and this would be another way to really get people hooked.
The book also had a good section of recommended reading in the back (including Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain, one of the books that first got me in to neuroscience), as well as a list of commonly prescribed drugs, their chemical names, and what they are usually prescribed for.
All in all, I found this a cute little “guide to the mind”. It would make a great gift for a kid (or an adult) who is just becoming interested in neuroscience, making the science easily accessible and interesting. And I can’t wait to see what comes out of “60-second science” next. Can I get an “Instand Egghead Guide to the Psyche”? How about an “Instand Egghead Guide to the Body”?

Learn more about the book.

Scicurious’ Brain Book Rating: brain_icon.png brain_icon.png brain_icon.png brain_icon.png
NEWS!!!! I was contacted by the book’s publishers. They are very interested in increasing awareness about the new Egghead series. To that end, they want me to run a giveaway! That’s right, FREE BOOKS. If you want one, leave me a comment. BUT, I don’t want to be givin’ away free books without justification. You must leave a comment along with three reasons why you LOVE your brain. I make a very biased judgement and pick the top 10 or so for free books! You know you want in! Go go go!

32 Responses

  1. Good post! Got me interested in the book! And what a coincidence, I just love my brain. But why? Well, because:
    … it keeps messin’ with reality, without me noticing.
    … it has knowledge about itself. And my toe doesn’t.
    … it does what I don’t want to do. (Although, maybe I do…)

  2. Not “Steve Mursky” … “Steve Mirsky” :)please

  3. Hmm, I love my brain for lots of reasons but narrowing it down to three will be mighty tricky…
    1. If it wasn’t so fast and powerful it’d take me ages to figure out how to make my shin connect with the pad in just the right place and at just the right speed in Muay Thai classes.
    2. If it gets fed the right input it floods my body with happy chemicals. Even if it gets bad input and starts throwing out nasty stuff I can put it back on track easily enough.
    3. When I’m asleep it seems to stay awake and gets mighty bored, so it invents dreams to keep itself amused. Everyone knows dreams rock.

  4. I love my brains because it should be tasty!

  5. I love my brain because I’m using it to research an exhibition project about brains. So far, it isn’t really doing that well so this book might help it along!

  6. 1) Drunken recall (or whatever you might call it) allows college students the chance to both drink AND study on a wed. night… I’m assuming the studying happened, but I really just can’t remember.
    2) It allows me to be a character on my favorite TV show (House, Scrubs, etc) as I sleep, though this only seems to happen after marathons…
    3) It’s a gateway to self discovery and understanding. Actions speak louder than words, but the majority of what is thought isn’t said and for me it’s fun to “see” how I reason, react, and think in general. Those processes are some of the things that reveal how different two minds can act as well.

  7. I’m only a recent reader of Neurotopia, but I love it!
    Why I love my brain:
    1)Optical illusions – I love the ability we have to trick our brain in a multitude of ways. And in the same vein, split brains are fascinating as well.
    2)Because somehow biology has figured out a way to cram lots of electricity and billions and billions of axons into a portable space inside my skull letting me take my brain into a variety of new situations
    3)Memory – that wonderful thing that is supposed to help me learn things for school but really just means that I can still recite song lyrics that I learned in kindergarten flawlessly.

  8. 1. I can fully follow two conversations at once.
    2. The smell of ketchup makes me think of Iowa.
    3. Last night I dreamed about singing karaoke with Barack Obama.

  9. I do recall spending a large chunk of my graduate experience at Borders. You can read SciAm there for free. Jeez get with the program. :p

  10. I love my brain because:
    1. It never lets me down (Or hasn’t yet–in 69 years).
    2. It has led me on this incredible journey called, “Life.”
    3. It is always ready to learn new things, even when they are difficult

  11. I love my brain because:
    1. It helps me percieve the world with sights, sounds, tastes, touch, etc.
    2. Can we say feeling during sex!! Big one.
    3. It feels good with alcohol. Think beer.
    Ok, but are 2 and 3, the same as 1?

  12. First of all, I love, love, love Phantoms in the Brain! I made the mistake of lending it to a professor though, and never got it back. 😦
    Let’s see, why I love my brain….
    1. Well, because it’s ME. This fascinating organ inside my head IS ME. Without it, I’d just be a boring mess of cells. Or sludge. Regardless, it’s much better this way. 🙂
    2. My brain not only allows me to experience the present, I can remember things that happened a long time ago, and imagine how things might be in the future. I can imagine how the past might have been, and I can think of things that are so wild that they probably won’t ever happen! My brain, essentially, allows me to travel through time and space without ever leaving the comfort of my couch!
    3. My brain allows me to connect with other brains. I can often feel the emotions of others, “read” people and situations and react accordingly, and I am often not even aware that I am doing it! My brain keeps me safe, causes me to love and be loved, and inspires me to share posts with fellow bloggers at 2am because dammit, my brain has something to say to you people!

  13. I love my brain because:
    1. As a cognitive scientist I enjoy the self-referential nature of my brain studying my brain studying my brain ad infinitum.
    2. I does so much without letting me know; like breathing, and walking and falling love.
    3. Mmmmmm….brains….

  14. Why do I love my brain? Let me count the ways…
    1. It provides me with endless, entertaining, surreal dreams at night as I depart consciousness and dive into the arms of Morpheus. (Woot!)
    2. Because I can use my brain to think about my brain. And Use it to think about *thinking about* my brain. And use it to think about *thinking about thinking about* my brain. And… (Oooh…recursion!)
    3. It allows me to listen to music when no-one and nothing is playing around me. It allows me to envision sunny summer days when it’s -10F. It allows me to imagine what my dotter will look like when she’s grown up. Imagination–what a gift!

  15. Actually, I’m not sure I love my brain. I like to think I’ve had it since I was a kid, but all this neuroplasticity stuff I read suggests this isn’t the brain I started out with. Who knows what it’s doing when I’m not watching?
    And it isn’t necessarily the best thing about me (the nominations in general have been slow in arriving). I follow the example of a 50s-era humorist who entitled an anthology The Better of Goodman Ace, so people wouldn’t keep saying, “You mean that’s your best?”
    Still, although I majored in English as an undergrad, and work as a consulting in the field of training, learning, and on-the-job performance, I wrote a fan letter to Eric Kandel (for In Search of Memory). And got a reply.

  16. I love my brain because:
    1. It’s the perfect traveling companion. It’s lightweight, you don’t have to take it out of its case at security, and you never have to fight for overhead bin space to store it. Personally, I never leave home without it.
    2. When I’m tired it will go play by itself, sometimes letting me watch the antics.
    3. If I am bored, it has a never-ending supply bag of tricks to play on me.

  17. I love my brain because…
    1. My brain tells me I love my brain. The wicked queen shoulda known what answer she would get when she asked a mirror. Or a mirror neuron.
    2. I love the smell of zinfandel in the morning.
    3. It lives in SUCH a lovely vat.

  18. Why I love my brain?
    1. Consciousness.
    2. Consciousness.
    3. Consciousness.
    That pretty much sums it up.

  19. I love my brain because:
    1. I like the mysterious type
    2. it’s put me through school!
    3. it connects my senses to my sometimes forgotten archive of memories and feelings when I’m least expecting it.

  20. As a pediatric neurologist and a Neuroscience course director for 160 first year medical students, I’m looking for something that blends traditional teaching with new research. This book looks like a painless way to do this. Now, why do I love my brain:
    (1) It helps me appreciate all the creative work that others do;
    (2) It choreographs my time for sleep (so that I can start the next day bright and cheery);
    (3) At present, it works just fine. I’m hoping it keeps up the good work for a while.

  21. Since childhood I have always taken things apart and (usually) put them back together to learn how they work. This book would obviate the need for surgery.
    Three reasons my brain is da bomb…
    1. it got me into and out of berkeley.
    2. it dreams.
    3. it has error recognition/correction.
    4. mmm, donuts…doh!

  22. I love my brain because…
    1. Despite its apparently inherent chemical imbalances, it still works well enough for me to ponder those apparent chemical imbalances (and read journal articles about them). Crazy.
    2. It is a puzzle I will never ever be able to fully understand. I love puzzles, especially ones I know I’ll never finish. They provide endless entertainment.
    3. You get pretty pictures when you map activity in it.

  23. My brain is amazing because:
    1. It gives me something to research
    2. It allows me to justify the unjustifiable
    3. Anything that allows you to fall in love has to be amazing. Right?

  24. I love my brain because….
    1. Oh, the drama! “you really should have another doughnut” “oh no, doughnuts are making you fat” “but they’re so tasty – just do it! Just do it” “NOOO, you’re turning into a Homer Simpson lookalike! No more doughnuts for you!” “yummy, yummy doughnuts in your tum-tum-tummy. Eat it now!” Incidentally, the part of the brain that’s telling me to eat another doughnut is the part that usually wins. And the “no doughnut” part of my brain has got some nerve, considering that he’s a pretty a big glucose hog himself….
    2. The tricks! Someone mentioned optical illusions above, but those have got nothing on the placebo effect! I feel 50% better as soon as I have the advil bottle in sight, and 75% better as soon as the pill is on my tongue. Thank you brain!
    3. The dreams! I heard that dreams only last a few seconds. How my brain manages to cram a thrilling tale of love, sex, horror, and people I haven’t seen since third grade into such a short period of time is impressive!
    4. The mystery! The brain is probably the hardest part of the body to really understand, and I’m not even sure if anyone actually understands it.
    5. The psychic abilities! just kidding.

  25. As a grad student, I love my brain because: keeps me on my diet; makes me get up and go to school (when the alarm fails) tells me I can graduate (yes I can)!!

  26. I love my brain because:
    1. precisely BECAUSE I don’t understand it.
    2. it leads me to new places that I doubt I’d have CONSCIOUSLY chosen to go if I’d thought about it.
    3. once I’m in one of those new and strange places, it explains to me WHY it took me there and shows me why it was not only a good thing but wholly necessary for me to go there.

  27. I love my brains because…
    1. I have the most awesome mirror neurons. Nothing else my brain does amazes me as much as my capacity to watch someone perform extremely complex movement and then copy it. There’s no perception of effort at all. Then again, maybe what I’m really thankful for the capacity to be amazed by ‘ordinary’ things in general?
    2. It integrates information so interestingly. Particularly with smells and tastes and stored memories.
    3. It is flawed. In “bug not feature” ways like depression (not “feature not bug” ways like dreaming). Yet my brain is quite sure that, somewhere, hidden away (under my cognitive couch cushions?) lies the ability to figure out what’s wrong with itself. And make it better.

  28. I love my brain because:
    1) Nobody understands it really. It remains a great mystery.
    2) No one can read my mind ever, only I will ever know my true thoughts and dreams.
    3) It controls everything about me! I could go on forever, but that should suffice.

  29. Wow, give away free stuff and the lurkers become commenters!

  30. I love my brain because:
    1. it allows me to love my wife.
    Are two and three necessary?

  31. I love my brain because…
    *it allows me to imagine objectivity
    *it has enough music in it to keep a running soundtrack in my day without earphones
    *it is constantly observing and sythesizing and coming up with ideas, except when it lets me dream
    Thank you, Scicurious!

  32. I love my brain because it
    1) keeps me from doing bad or really stupid things most of the time
    2) keeps trying to make me happy
    3) makes me feel love for my children
    I hate my brain because, oh that’s another post.

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