August 4, 2004
It's Raining Brains
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.
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.