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August 4, 2004

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It's Raining Brains

Coming soon from the people that brought you “Google Hacks” and many others:

“Brain Hacks”??

Oh yes.

At first I was afraid this was going to actually be, like, ways to mess with your brain. (I feel like that subject has been well-documented elsewhere.) Instead it sounds to be more of a user’s guide:

I’m talking about minute-by-minute stuff: This is why you scratch your face when somebody else does. This is what will grab your attention in the corner of your eye, and this is what won’t. Why the status icons in the corner of your desktop should be black and white and not in colour. That’s what Brain Hacks is about, letting you see how all that works, from a standing start.

We, the nerdy public, have been treated to many good brain books in recent years.

Steven Pinker’s excellent “How the Mind Works” was one of the best books I read in college, and Steven Berlin Johnson’s “Mind Wide Open,” which I kinda stalled out on in the middle of the second chapter, still looks really good — he uses his own brain as a lens to explore and explain modern neuro- and cognitive science.

Malcolm Gladwell is coming out with a brain book, too, though his has a different angle. I actually heard about it back in November 2002. Here’s a re-enactment:

Setting: a large house in Cambridge, Mass., full of journalists.

Robin: (sidles up) Hey, Malcolm. Nice speech.

Malcolm: (with huge afro) Thanks.

R: So, whatcha working on now?

M: Book on intuition.

R: Cool.

End scene.

Now Jason Kottke has the deets from

Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology, he shows how the difference between good decision-making and bad has nothing to do with how much information we can process quickly, but on the few particular details on which we focus.

Apparently Gladwell “leaps boldly from example to example” as well.

I think all these books are actually very important insofar as they all seem to be based on actual science and not just neat-sounding theories.

As Matt Webb, a co-author of the new “Brain Hacks” book, explains, there really is all this new knowledge — generated only in the last few years — that has yet to be absorbed by the public, even the smart book-readin’ Web-surfin’ public. We really do have access to way, way more legitimate information about our minds than Kant could ever have dreamed of — now we just have to learn it.

So, “Brain Hacks” looks fun. “Blink,” too.

I’m sure there will a “Your Brain for Dummies” before long.

Posted August 4, 2004 at 12:14 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Braiiins


I don't have the article in front of me, but the most recent issue of the chronicle of higher education had a tiny story on current theories regarding the cause of deja vu.

The most interestingn theory, to my mind (ha ha), drew on the fact that visual information is actually processed nearly simultaneously through two separate neural pathways. The nearly part is where deja vu can sneak in.

If I see something, which is to say if light hits my retina, the information from my retina will begin to travel on two different roads both leading to the same place. Some researchers speculate that if the information taking the more direct route is processed first, the arrival of the same information via the second route may trick the brain into thinking that it is seeing something that it has seen before.

It speaks to the amazing deception of consciousness that our brains play out every day, that we can by this minor glitch in information processing be led to believe that we are experiencing events that may have happened to us before, either years before or in one of our previous incarnations -- preferably in the one where I was king. (Of course I must have been a poor king and that is why I've devolved into a graduate student.)

Posted by: Dan on August 4, 2004 at 02:08 PM

Now THAT is fascinating. I've long wondered about deja vu. Thanks for the ref, Dan.

And au contraire: I think you were a very kind and responsible llama in a previous life, and this is your reward.

In my next life I would like to be a blog.

Posted by: Robin on August 4, 2004 at 03:24 PM

Here's the Chronicle link on déjà vu:

I've always liked "jamais vu" [lit.: "never seen"] a little better than déjà vu. It's when ordinary, everyday events seem new and strange.

In short, neuroscientists have their work cut out for them when it comes to garden-variety freakiness.

Posted by: Tim on August 4, 2004 at 05:01 PM
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