How Elastic Is Your Brain?

MY PLASTIC BRAIN
One Woman’s Yearlong Journey to Discover if Science Can Improve Her Mind
By Caroline Williams
278 pp. Prometheus. $24.

Williams is on a quest to alter her mind (or as Jasanoff would say, a quest to enhance her thoughts, which is partially constituted by her mind). She is a chronically distracted worrier who’s disorganized and continuously getting misplaced. Each chapter recounts her adventures with the newest, best “brain-training” device to enhance her psychological abilities. She begins off, for instance, by making an attempt to extend her potential to concentrate and resist distraction by having scientists “zap” her with focused electromagnetic vitality to the surface of her head. In subsequent chapters, she tries to cut back her nervousness, develop her creativity, enhance her math potential, calibrate her inside GPS and take management over her notion of the passing of time, utilizing varied brain-hacking methods. Each chapter is a mini-redemption story, with Williams beginning out skeptical and ending victorious.

Williams writes in a well-recognized, dinner-party model, delighting company with tales of her exploits. If I have been invited to that occasion, although, I’d be the unbearable particular person nit-picking on the scientific warts in her tales. These embrace her persistent Cartesian dualism separating the mind and its “owner,” inaccurate metaphors like a reference to mind areas “lighting up,” and outdated scientific claims that the mind is a battleground between an inside burglar alarm within the amygdala and a wellspring of motive within the cerebral cortex.

But it most likely does Williams a disservice to learn her intriguing quest for self-improvement as a primer on the inside workings of the mind. That’s not her intention. “My Plastic Brain” is finest appreciated as an fulfilling memoir, not a e-book that explains the science of how plasticity actually works underneath the hood.

ELASTIC
Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change
By Leonard Mlodinow
252 pp. Pantheon. $28.95.

As a lot as I take pleasure in Mlodinow’s storytelling, the scientific particulars gave me whiplash. Some of his understanding of mind construction and performance is bang on, however he additionally presents quite a few outdated scientific claims. For instance, he writes that the mind is fabricated from neurons organized in a hierarchy, which is right, however he embeds this in an antiquated view of mind construction that specialists in mind evolution have pooh-poohed for many years. Mistakes inevitably comply with, like treating the mind’s reward system as synonymous with feelings and the way they manifest (it isn’t). He factors out that neurons are at all times firing (true), however he localizes this brain-wide phenomenon to only one mind community (false). “Elastic,” just like the earlier two books reviewed right here, illustrates how tough it’s for science writers to maintain up with the tempo of discovery outdoors of their areas of experience.

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