The Inner Mind | Science & Technology

Jasanoff, Alan. The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate To Make Us Who We Are. Basic. Mar. 2018. 304p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780465052684. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781541644311. SCI
Cerebral mystique, according to Jasanoff (director, MIT Ctr. for Neurobiological Engineering), results in elevating the importance of the brain to such an extent that it is viewed as containing the essence of who we are as individuals. In the past, the soul was thought to encompass our humanity (our personalities, intellect, etc.), but today the brain has replaced the soul as the repository of our unique beings. This phenomenon, argues Jasanoff, is problematic. The brain should be seen as biologically based; it works in conjunction with the rest of the body as well as the external environment in which it grows and develops. Jasanoff first explores how neuroscience has contributed to the cerebral mystique of the brain. He then examines how our world might be improved by a more biologically centered view of the organ. VERDICT Taking the brain off of its pedestal, Jasanoff offers an exhaustive, comprehensible, and at times playful (e.g., why do humans now study brains instead of eat them?) look at the brain. Appropriate for both neuroscientists as well as general readers interested in gaining a better understanding of this vital organ.Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s Sch., Brooklyn

redstar Williams, Caroline. My Plastic Brain: One Woman’s Yearlong Journey To Discover If Science Can Improve Her Mind. Prometheus. Mar. 2018. 320p. illus. index. ISBN 9781633883918. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781633883925. SCI
In the vein of a yearlong self-improvement project, science journalist (New Scientist, BBC, the Guardian) Williams’s first book focuses on enhancing how her brain functions via neuroscience. Her main complaints are a tendency to fret, particularly about her young son’s safety; procrastination; and a tendency to “space out” (which she calls “butterfly brain”). The author often writes at home, and being able to focus is key. In order to find out if neuroscience can help change her brain, she worked with researchers across Europe and the United States, trying out such techniques as sustained focus exercises, stress response retraining, mindfulness meditation training, and magnetic brain stimulation. Williams reports her experience and progress (or lack thereof), ever cognizant that much of this work is still in its nascent stages and therefore unavailable outside controlled studies. In a charming and engaging voice, Williams takes readers on a thorough, thoughtful tour of the current state of the practical applications of neuroscience and looks at what the future holds.
VERDICT Highly recommended for readers interested in the brain and the various methods on the market to improve it.Nancy H. Fontaine, Norwich P.L., VT

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