Fellow blogger Tim Brownson has written a great little book called 70 Amazing Facts About Your Brain . . . and why it does weird things.
What sort of book is it?
It’s a list with commentary, followed by a section that draws the implications for us together at the end. The fact is stated and its implications for our behaviour and happiness are explored. Sometimes it is just a sentence, sometimes it is a third or half a page.
Some of the facts are quite recent. Number 6 is that fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging – of the brain; that is watching what happens in the brain) has shown that reframing negative situations leads to new neural pathways being established in the brain.
Reframing is seeing the positive in a situation or taking a positive approach to a situation you would otherwise regard as negative. Things like:
- I have more to learn about this, rather than “I failed”
- I can learn from this experience, rather than “that was just a disaster”
- ‘What we can do right tomorrow is more important than what we did wrong yesterday’.
This one fact is enough for us to make major changes to how we see things and so behave I think.
Tim writes well.
He has a light touch, writes clearly and doesn’t waste space. The fact is stated and the implication specified. Tim’s style is very suited to this kind of book.
It is tempting to quote all my favourite facts but that would make this post incredibly long.
So just one. Fact 21 our brain never loses the ability to change and adapt – so (apart from brain diseases) we never lose the ability to learn and change.
[It is also nice that he trashes that slogan that ‘we use only 10% of our brain’ – tosh.]
There is just too much richness to encompass – from London taxi drivers having more of their devoted to spatial processing, the mirror neurons which have big implications for our ability to relate, the relationship between cocaine and philanthropy, and trashing the idea of multi-tasking.
There is a huge amount of useful stuff in this little book (33 pages).
No index (not a big deal) or footnotes to chase up the research where the facts come from (google is your friend – the facts aren’t obscure so you should be able to follow up the details easily).
Firstly it is an enjoyable read that will inform you about your brain.
A bigger reason is to help you combat cognitive bias by understanding why it occurs – it occurs because of the way the brain is structured and functions. It isn’t that we are ‘dumb’ or being wilfully contrary. Our brain is set up to do certain things well – and not worry so much about other things.
Toward the end Tim gives a run-down, in about six pages, of what these cognitive biases are and how to avoid them. This is the biggest payoff of the book, the place where it is drawn together – the implications grounded in daily reality. These biases can have big implications for what we believe and how we relate to ourselves, the world and other people. This section is called How To Avoid Getting Ripped Off (it is framed as a story about buying a dress). Just one example – the backfire effect is where people strengthen their belief in the light of contrary evidence. (Just think of all those arguments where evidence is piled up and no one actually changes their view.)
You can use this book as a handbook or how your brain works and how to avoid having it trick you. Taking the implications to heart should lead to you having a much easier and more enjoyable life.
You can buy it from Amazon in kindle format now. (It is priced affordably.)