Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life
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Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  2,531 ratings  ·  117 reviews
In this nationally bestselling, compulsively readable account of what makes brain science a vital component of people's quest to know themselves, acclaimed science writer Steven Johnson subjects his own brain to a battery of tests to find out what's really going on inside. He asks:

How do we "read" other people?


What is the neurochemistry behind love and sex?


What does it me...more
Paperback, 274 pages
Published May 10th 2005 by Scribner (first published 1999)
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Trevor
If I was to sign up for a religion it would really have to offer me much more than the chance to chant “Holy, Holy, Holy” at the right hand of God for the rest of eternity. One of the things that would nearly sway me would be if it gave me a change to do and be all of the things there just isn’t time in one life to be and do. And if I was converted to this particular religion one of the lives that would be on the top of the list would have to be some sort of brain scientist type person – you kno...more
Giedra
I really liked this book. Each chapter focused on a different aspect of the mind. For example, one chapter discussed our ability to "mindread" other people, referring to how we can read subtle cues about a person's mood, whether they are lying, etc. from their facial expressions, tone, etc. and we have no idea we can even do this. He points out that we DO usually sense that we enjoy conversing with some people more than others even when the content of hte conversations is largely the same, and p...more
Michelle
OLD: some interesting bits, but a little too everyday and wandering for me? but only 1/3 done and won't judge until the end.

NEW:
It feels like Steven Berlin Johnson set out on a quest to understand his own mind, kept a diary about it, and decided to publish it when he reached a conclusion. He doesn't delve too deeply into either the science or the anecdotes, and I lost his train of thought several times. It's a neat exploration, but a bit too self-indulgent to be a really compelling story for a r...more
Guillermojimenezespneo
Dentro de las revisiones de las neurociencias, por personas, incluidos periodistas involucrados directamente con alguna área particular, sin la formación científica propiamente dicha, es a veces más disfrutable que leer los artículos médicos, porque como dice Chaitin, los teoremas son mentiras que te acercan a la verdad. Lo mismo digo. A partir de situaciones de vida: el bloqueo creativo, la fobia a las ventanas de vidrio en medio de tormentas intensas, te vas dando cuenta que hay científicos qu...more
Kirsten
This is a really excellent look at how neuroscience relates to our everyday emotional lives. One of the most interesting bits to me was the discussion of the way that we remember trauma. Research now shows that a lot of conventional wisdom about trauma is flat-out wrong; in particularly, this book suggests that if "talking out" a traumatic event reproduces the fear response (increased heart rate, etc.), it may cause the fear produced by the memories to become more firmly etched, not less. This m...more
Bucket
Steven Johnson explores neuroscience in a very accessible way by describing his journey to understand his own brain. He submits himself to MRIs, biofeedback machines, neurofeedback machines, and other neurological testing to gain insight into how his own brain (and all of our brains too) function on a daily basis.

He closes with a section about Freud, and how neuroscience, while showing the need to update or alter some of Freud's theories about psychoanalysis, does not totally replace them. John...more
Daniel Hadley
What Johnson does well is break down complex scientific topics with clear prose and interesting real life examples. Sometimes I sense that he is oversimplifying things, but overall I like his style.

Here's the good news: we can read minds. Our brains can read subtle clues in facial expressions, body language and voice intonations. This happens in the subconscious, below our radar (or, outside of the "Executive Branch," as Johnson calls the conscious mind). Pretty cool.

We also are high on drugs...more
Tina
This is a pretty fascinating book. It gets a little annoying whenever Johnson tries to pimp it out as a self-help book ("learning about your brain can help you!" blah blah), but luckily, it's NOT a self-help book -- it's an informative book about how your brain functions and how he went about exploring (via MRI and neurofeedback, etc.) about how his brain works. (I'm guessing he thought trying to pass it off as self-help would increase his audience?)

The chapter on attention was a tiny bit dull f...more
David Everling
Good book. I think I would have given this a higher rating if I had read it when it was published in 2004, since I've read a half-dozen books since then that explore similar material. Indeed the more recent books from contemporaries like Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer, Blink and How We Decide (respectively) are good examples, get the benefit of more recent studies and analysis. None of this is Johnson's fault of course, which is why I feel compelled to note it here, but it affected my engagem...more
Stephanie Hinds
I agree with other readers that this book contained mostly information I already knew. This was not unexpected as it is roughly my field of expertise and the book was published in 2004- written about current understanding of the brain. The brain is our body's most complex organ, & perhaps the most complex thing known to man. Within 5 years of my completing school, fundamental ideas about the brain (ex. We don't grow new neurons) were not only being challenged but being disproven. All that be...more
Grace
Steven Johnson wanted to know what his brain was doing when he felt/did different things, why he felt/did different things, and to what extent all human brains are the same/different. He went to lots of specialists, got hooked up to various brain-reading machines and wrote this book about his experiences. It was really fun to read and really interesting. Warning: it does offer theories explaining how chemicals in our brain are responsible for all emotions, including love, so if you don't want to...more
Lauren Kampwirth
Yep. I'm a neuroscience nerd.
Patrick
Given the opportunity to watch the inner workings of his own brain, Steven Johnson jumps at the chance. He reveals the results in Mind Wide Open, an engaging and personal account of his foray into edgy brain science. In the 21st century, Johnson observes, we have become used to ideas such as "adrenaline rushes" and "serotonin levels," without really recognizing that complex neurobiology has become a commonplace thing to talk about. He sees recent laboratory revelations about the brain as crucial...more
Adam Jacobson
I’m fascinated by the mind/brain problem. How do we get from a set of molecules to consciousness? Probably why I used to find Nachmanides on Genesis 1:26 so inspiring even if I no longer feel it’s intellectually enough by any stretch of the imagination. That’s why I’ve started Daniel Dennett’s consciousness explained several times although I’ve never been able to get through all the way (even if it did lead me to several other really more accessible reads along the way.
That said, this is solid o...more
Audiaa
3.5 stars
I enjoyed reading most of this book and learned a few things I didn't know about the brain and topics such as the fight or flight response, biofeed back, being in "the zone", and how hormones affect behavior. This book is mostly written for a lay audience, but there were occasional complicated science words thrown in to remind us that the topic was supposed to be hard. The metaphors and examples that the author used to explain some of the complex topics were useful, but on the other han...more
John Wiswell
Johnson brings understandable, conversational language to one of the most imposing and important sciences of the modern time: the study of the brain. He's upfront about reducing his subject to a few chemicals and parts of the brain, making the five major chapters a sort of sturdy introduction to neuroscience. What he picks are some of the most fascinating bits, like oxytocin, a chemical found in high doses in the brains of new couples and women who have recently given birth. Is this the love dru...more
Michael
In a nutshell, this is Johnson’s story about his foray into locating the secrets of the/his human brain (at least per available technology circa 2003) with the ultimate goals of both offering his audience a basic understanding of the chemical nature of mental activity and reframing Freudian thought in the context of a more sophisticated understanding of these processes (positioning the Freudian model as essentially empirical and necessarily metaphorical as a distant precursor to certain technolo...more
Bookmarks Magazine

What would you learn if you "could see what your brain looked like when it was remembering a long-forgotten childhood experience, or listening to a song, or conceiving a good idea?" The answer: a lot, but we still have much to discover about the complicated circuits run by experience, memory, emotion, and brain chemistry. This topic could have scared away non-scientists, but Johnson (a non-scientist) explains technical terms clearly and enthusiastically, using personal examples to illustrate key

...more
Tracey
Using himself as a subject, Johnson explores the current state of brain/mind exploration, using biofeedback, MRIs and chemical analysis, among other tools. He examines what creative thinking looks like in the brain, improves his facial expression reading skills and comes to grips with his own use of humour as a coping skill, as well as learns why sunny days and high, whistling noises are alert triggers for him.

The first few chapters are the strongest, as they document his experiments on himself...more
Randi Tallman
"In one way or another, all our experiences are chemically conditioned, and if we imagine that some of them are purely 'spiritual,' purely 'intellectual,' purely 'aesthetic,' it is merely because we have never troubled to investigate the internal chemical environment at the moment of their occurrence." -Aldous Huxley

Loved the summary, in which he describes the concern that science reduces the brain to a crude piece of machinery. I could never imagine thinking this. The more you learn, the more...more
Mohammad Abdelkhalek
this book takes you on a journey through the reverse engineering of mind reading, adrenalin rushes, fear, love and attention, it gives non-scientists an idea of how the brain works though everyday activities. The book is also very rich in the famous "oh shit" moments, when you read about an idea that you've thought about for quite a long time (i was really amazed when the author started talking about the shivers of pleasure we get from listening to good music). Finally, the book makes a comparis...more
Lars Guthrie

If you haven't read much about neuroscience's leaps in research on the brain over the past couple of decades and the evidence drawn from that research that forcefully makes the case that our brains are plastic organisms, this is an easy-to-read introduction. Sometimes I thought Johnson was superficial. In a fascinating chapter on face and affect recognition, he introduces Simon Baron-Cohen as an authoritive expert without barely a mention of the controversy stirred up by the psychologist's 'male...more
Darya
A nice introduction into neuroscience of emotions and social interactions: how and why we become afraid of presumably harmless things and what we can do to overcome these fears, how we "read" other people, neurochemistry of love and attachment etc. An easy to read account of the author's experiences with biofeedback, fMRI etc. and his interviews with prominent neurobiologists and behavioral biologists such as Joseph LeDoux, Antonio Damasio etc. The book is by no means overwhelmed by scientific t...more
Dwain
If neuroscience sounds interesting to you...you're probably a little odd and you will enjoy this book. Johnson effectively teaches about the mind without relying on jargon that baffles the reader. Of course, as a first trip into brain science, the book is a brief and flitting survey of many topics, but I found it fascinating. One of the lessons I learned is that our memory, and even how our brains process information, is bound and heavily guided by emotion, and emotion can shape what we learn an...more
Abbey
Forget free will! Free will is an illusion. I'm convinced that we are about 90% programmed, hard-wired to do what we do based on neuroscience and conditioning by events and genes. You think you make your choices? No, your gut bacteria give you cravings. Your genes push you mightily toward one preference rather than another. Your culture provides a framework within which you function. Your amygdala tells you what to feel, and how deeply to feel about it. You are a bundle of predetermined actions....more
M.L.
Compared with the other brain book I read last month (whose name escapes me), this one is a vast improvement - mainly based on style instead of substance. Much of the substance was already familiar, and likely will be for you too if you take an enthusiast's interest in Brain stuff. But the way in which the information is presented - as part of a personal quest - mirrors so much of my own experience that it's easy to build a bond with the author. Since that sort of bond happens only rarely in non...more
Tyler
Steven Johnson is one of my favorite authors in the pop-science field. Surely he is up there with Mary Roach. He must keep his books short on purpose but on this one I wish he'd written more because it's all so good and there's a ton of stuff in the neuroscience field that he could expound upon. This is not a book for someone well-versed in the subject because it would be redundant but I will say if you read one general pop-science neuroscience book, make it this. The author is great at explaini...more
Katie Long
3.5 stars. The content holds up rather well considering we are now 10 years out from the initial publishing. It's a good "pop-neuro" book... but I didn't get much new out of it. Great for the person just beginning to be interested in the intersection of MIND and BRAIN. The author is very adept at writing to a "layman's" level without feeling like you are being spoken "down" to by him.
Angela
If you have a brain, this book is about you. Johnson explores and elucidates recent discoveries about how the human mind works. Out of the many insights that have come out of neuroscience, Johnson focuses on those that, as he puts it, pass the "long-decay test;" they stick with you, and each can change your concept of yourself in some important way. No previous knowledge of neuroscience is required to understand and enjoy this engaging book. Brain science can be a powerful tool for self-understa...more
Jonathan Harford
"The legendary phrase from the Reagan years—“This is your brain on drugs”—is ultimately misleading. Your brain is nothing but drugs—or put another way, it would be nothing without drugs. Certainly there is a distinction to be made between those that are endogenous and exogenous, between natural and artificial, but the fundamental truth is that artificial drugs work because your brain mistakes them for natural ones. Right now, as you read these words, you are under the influence of chemicals that...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

Steven Johnson is the author of the bestsellers Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, Everything Bad Is Good For You, and Mind Wide Open, as well as Emergence and Interface Culture. He is the founder of a variety of influential websites—most recently, outside.in—and writes for Time, Wi...more
More about Steven Johnson...
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation Everything Bad is Good for You Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software The Invention of Air

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