Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
user_rating: 
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Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

A-MindWideOpenWho controls our brains? If we could peek inside, what would we learn about ourselves? After volunteering for a series of neuroscience experiments, Johnson, a journalist, became interested in the neurochemical and physiological bases of emotion and memory. Sophisticated brain tests showed that emotions such as fear and love derive directly from chemical and electric interactions that, in turn, are fueled by our senses. In short, chemicals play just as important a role in our response to the outside world as do memories and experience. "The mind is now open to us in ways that exceed the wildest dreams of poets and philosophers," he concludes. "Why not peer inside?"
Scribner. 274 pages. $25.

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]n absorbing narrative charting his journey, as a nonscientist, into the realm of the brain. ... Readers, under the sway of his words and humorous take on life, can't help but marvel along at our brain's abilities and the chemicals that orchestrate them." Bernadette Murphy

San Diego Union-Trib 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]his is a fine, broad-based primer on what's happening in brain science." Scott LaFee

SF Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Although there are challenging questions that remain about the relevance of neuroscience to everyday life, Mind Wide Open is a thought-provoking and engaging book, with very little technical jargon that might discourage lay readers perusing a scientific subject. Johnson's intellectual curiosity, and his enthusiasm for the potential of medical technologies, is infectious." Brian Dolan

Chicago Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The things you've always wondered about your brain, why past events still haunt you, why your heart beats faster when you're scared, how stress affects your job performance, why you love your kids, whether there really are right-brain and left-brain activities, are fetchingly elucidated here, presented in a conversational style that makes even forbiddingly difficult concepts seem suddenly graspable. ... Where he stumbles, however, is when he lets the charm offensive get out of hand." Julia Keller

St. Petersburg Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"His book, subtitled Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life, is a chronicle, written in plain English, of his efforts to explore the quirks and the craftiness of the working brain. ... [U]sing technology and burgeoning scientific knowledge to understand how the brain works only arouses a deeper reverence for the brain's capabilities." Tom Valeo

Critical Summary

What would you learn if you "could see what your brain looked like when it was remembering a long-forgotten childhood experience, or listening to a song, or conceiving a good idea?" The answer: a lot, but we still have much to discover about the complicated circuits run by experience, memory, emotion, and brain chemistry. This topic could have scared away non-scientists, but Johnson (a non-scientist) explains technical terms clearly and enthusiastically, using personal examples to illustrate key concepts. Some readers might question his claims; does a baby's crying result more from chemistry than emotion? Despite its uncertain conclusions and relevance to, say, PTSD, Mind Wide Open is an excellent introduction to the complex feedback system that defines our daily experiences.