You've probably seen it before: a human brain dramatically lit from the side, the camera circling it like a helicopter shot of Stonehenge, and a modulated baritone voice exalting the brain's elegant design in reverent tones... to which this book says: Pure nonsense.
In a work at once deeply learned and wonderfully accessible, the neuroscientist David Linden counters the widespread assumption that the brain is a paragon of design - and in its place gives us a compelling explanation of how the brain's serendipitous evolution has resulted in nothing short of our humanity.
A guide to the strange and often illogical world of neural function, The Accidental Mind shows how the brain is not an optimized, general-purpose problem-solving machine, but rather a weird agglomeration of ad-hoc solutions that have been piled on through millions of years of evolutionary history.
Moreover, Linden tells us how the constraints of evolved brain design have ultimately led to almost every transcendent human foible: our long childhoods, our extensive memory capacity, our search for love and long-term relationships, our need to create compelling narrative, and, ultimately, the universal cultural impulse to create both religious and scientific explanations. With forays into evolutionary biology, this analysis of mental function answers some of our most common questions about how we've come to be who we are. The book is published by Harvard University Press.
©2007 The President and Fellows of Harvard College (P)2010 Redwood Audiobooks
"This is a terrific book that accomplishes its aim of presenting a biological view of how the brain works, and does so in a charming, fetching style." (Joshua R. Sanes, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University)
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"Best general-public Brain Science book to date"
I have been a professional neuroscientist for the last 20 years. When asked for a book on this field aimed for the general public, however, I always found it very difficult to recommend one. Is not that there are few published books on the topic; but they tend to be too superficial, prone to groundless speculation, or both. Here you have a book that is well written, entertaining and superb at explaining the core ideas and principles of modern Neuroscience for the layman. Although brain science is not a simple subject, Dr. Linden does a superb job at making it understandable and interesting. Highly recommended.
"Brain - mind - humanity"
This is what popular science writing is, or should be, all about... Making "real" science just that little bit more accessible to the keen reader with an interest in the field and the willingness to stretch themselves just enough for the journey. As always, it couldn't have been easy for the author to decide how much "nuts & bolts" biology and chemistry to include. Undoubtedly many readers will, like this reviewer, find some sections too technical, but they're always short enough that the reader can forge ahead and get to the "real world" implications of the chemistry -- the emergence of mind and its interaction with the body and environment.
Even though I'm quite a keen reader of accessible books, blogs and articles on neuroscience, psychology and philosophy of mind, I still learnt quite a bit from this book. A few examples that come to mind (!) are:
(1) The circadian ("approximately one day") timing circuit;
(2) The working of "blind sight," our second sight ability situated in the more primitive brain;
(3) The left brain's ability and predisposition to look for patterns, filling in the blanks even when they don't exist; ...and many more.
The narration by Ray Porter is engaging, more akin to an informal chat than a read speech.
"Does Not Make Its Case but Highly educational"
While some of the explanations of brain physiology seemed a bit more complex than necessary to build a foundation for later chapters, the book was still quite fascinating. No one should be fooled into thinking that this is light reading/listening though. The author gives about as deep of a treatment of the neuroscience behind subjects such as why we dream, how we form memories and why we fall in love as a college educated lay person can handle. On the other hand, the author's insistence that the brain is an inefficient kludge was not supported at any reasonable scientific level. For example, the comparisons of the speed of neuro-transmission to the speed of electrons over copper wire, and the focus on agglomeration of newer and ancient brain structures that have some overlap do not make the case for inefficiency. Nevertheless, this is not the focus of the book. Well worth the credit for anyone interested in understanding the science.
"Excellent Overview of the Brain"
The Accidental Mind provides an excellent overview of the development and processes of the human brain. It is long enough to have covered a broad spectrum of topics and to have gone reasonably in-depth, but still concise enough that it held my interest throughout. The narrator, Ray Porter, did an outstanding job. He was animated, did an excellent job of channeling the author's intent, and wasn't an enunciating drone as so many non-fiction narrators are. I'm actually interested in seeing what other audiobooks this narrator has read - a first for me.
"Insights into the Brain"
David Linden in “The Accidental Mind” relates how the human brain has evolved and describes how it biologically works. Along the way he links the chemical, electric, psychological and behavioral apparatus as we experience it on a daily basis. Linden uses an engaging style which keeps the reader’s attention. This is also an approachable introduction to neuroscience as it is currently understood. The novice with little or no background will not find segments of the book difficult, but will need to pay attention to follow the descriptions and explanations provided. Otherwise, the book is readily approachable by the person with a general interest. The text is aptly read by Ray Price.
"tough to follow at times"
a little dry, the narrator is actually fantastic, I'm used to hearing Porter in the Joe Ledger novels so i was always expecting him to start talking about the inner workings of the brain, and then have a zombie eat it.
"Good facts and background,"
a few too many details of the biochemistgry in several places for an audiobook, but overall very informative, lots of good examples and applications. Most technically oriented people will enjoy.
"Good listen but strong scientific bent"
Although this has a strong scientifc bent, I enjoyed the entire book; but like the two previous posters, I have a science background. The material is extremely interesting, but some may find it less than enthralling with all the scientific explanations. Having said that, how could any writing about the function of the human brain not have a strong scientific bent...
"Interesting but deep at times"
I would have to listen again -- with pen and paper in hand to be able to start to understand some of the science that he explains.
This book is heavy lifting at first if you do not have a background in the science of the brain. The first couple of chapters give an overview of the biology of the brain -- which necessarily requires a lot of unfamiliar terms and concepts. He doesn't go into such detail, however, that the uninitiated feels like it is not worth going on. There's a lot of interesting stuff there, even though I would have to listen several times and take notes to keep up with it all.
But in the later chapters, when the author goes through a discussion of what is going on with memory, dreams, and sleep, the pace picks up (and it becomes clear why the scientific explanation was necessary in the first place). There is also a discussion of religion which is two-fold. First is a discussion of the neurological need to develop a religion -- which exists in cultures throughout the world. I was particularly interested in this aspect when I selected the book, and I thought this part of the book was the least developed which was a little disappointing. The second religious discussion was a response (repudiation?) to the idea of intelligent design. I thought the author did a good job of setting out the arguments made by intelligent design folks (some of which were new to me) and then responding to them. Interesting stuff.
Fascinating book (to me, I know all those different receptors aren't for everyone) but quite challenging to follow if you do stuff that requires much thought while you listen. Reader is excellent in his ability to make sense of the sometimes dense prose, although he does make a few pronunciation errors.
I think if you have a brain you can't help but be interested in how it works, and this book certainly offers some interesting hypotheses. I got a little fed up hearing how stupidly the brain is designed (i.e., because it isn't) and while admiring the author's measured and scientific approach, I have to say I didn't warm to him as a person. Still, connecting dreams and religion to the brain's compulsion for seamless narrative is something of a tour de force.
After reading "The Self Illusion" by Bruce Hood this was the perfect follow up. Linden's text is easily accessible for non-academic seekers of knowledge and is totally fascinating.
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