A slim volume about the power of narratives. Gottschall presents empirical evidence about the stories that we tell ourselves, although there's not any...moreA slim volume about the power of narratives. Gottschall presents empirical evidence about the stories that we tell ourselves, although there's not anything new here. Unfortunately, Gottschall is better at telling stories about the results than describing the experiments in sufficient detail, although he is an English professor and this is a popular science book, so I can't begrudge him too much.(less)
Although the United States is the most extroverted country in the world, one third to one half of people are introverts. Introverts are often quiet pe...moreAlthough the United States is the most extroverted country in the world, one third to one half of people are introverts. Introverts are often quiet people, the ones who would rather stay in on a weekend than go out to a party, the ones that need to recharge with solitude after giving presentations. Introverts are often deep thinkings and intimate friends, although our society (incorrectly) views them as passive and anti-social. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain explains how Western society misunderstands the quiet among us.
I do not count myself as one of the quiet ones. Indeed, I'm one of the extroverts, and I'll go so far as to say that no one has ever called me quiet. I know I'm an extrovert, because I look forward to giving presentations (the bigger the audience, the better). I get antsy when I don't have a party to go to on Friday night, and I recharge after a long day of work by socializing. Plus, I'm going to spend a large portion of this review talking about myself.
Cain's book makes me realize that I also possess some traits that are more characteristic of introverts. I spend a fair amount of time with my nose buried in a book, and I'm hopelessly bad at multitasking. I'm not a fan of group work (unless I can be completely in control of the group), and I would certainly consider myself an intellectual. As Cain points out, no one is completely an extrovert, nor is anyone completely an introvert. Extroverts, however, flourish in American society, while introverts are often forced to pretend to be extroverts.
Particularly interesting is the chapter on raising introverted children. I don't have children, nor do I have plans to gestate a human being anytime soon, so I was surprised at how much I got from this section. After reading it, I realized how difficult school must have been for the shy ones, the ones that "never spoke up" in class. It's clear that I got undue praised for being bossy and talkative. Who knows how many kids my teachers ignored while I blabbed on endlessly about who knows what.
Throughout the book, Cain argues that introverts should be cultivated, that their unique abilities (such as the deep focus that so often eludes me) should be valued. I agree, and I think she should take her argument one step further: extroverts should try to bring out their introverted sides. Maybe, instead of telling introverts to be louder, we should all try to become more quiet.(less)
“...no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the f...more“...no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish.” - David Hume
What kind of person could deny that the holocaust actually happened? Who could argue against the evidence for evolution? And how do smart people believe such outlandish claims as ESP, alien abductions, and haunted houses? In his book, Michael Shermer explains the logical fallacies and cycles of belief that cause smart people to believe some really weird stuff. This book is worth reading for the in-depth discussion of logical fallacies alone; these fallacies should be taught in high school science classes. Shermer points out that part of the issue with pseudoscience is the way we approach science eduction: as a collection of facts, instead of an imperfect but self-correcting method for discovering the truth.
Shermer treats believers kindly: he does not attack them as ignorant or crazy. Indeed, he claims that intelligence and belief in weird things are completely orthogonal (in other words, statistically unrelated). However, he does compare creationists with holocaust deniers (both fringe groups that use similar tactics to deny a well-established truth), and he certainly counts a belief in God, particularly a belief that God can be proven scientifically, as strange. Shermer's discussion of Ayn Rand's cult of objectivism is amusingly vitriolic, and one of my favorite sections of the book.(less)
The internet is a jumble of information: as I type this, I have two different email inboxes open in different tabs, another tab open to a blog post, i...moreThe internet is a jumble of information: as I type this, I have two different email inboxes open in different tabs, another tab open to a blog post, instant messaging windows chiming, and text-messages being sent to my computer through Apple's iMessages systems (I forgot it was called iMessages, so I also had to open google and look that up). In short, my computer screen effectively works as a purveyor of distraction; in The Shallows, Nicolas Carr argues that the internet impacts my brain outside the pleasantly-blunted edges of my MacBook Pro (and my iPhone. And iPad. And, come to think of it, my Apple TV).
In making his argument, Carr first examines the history of information technology, starting with scrolls, wax-tablets, and my beloved codex. He shows that the type of "deep-reading" afforded by books is an anomaly in our history, although one with a myriad of benefits. This history covers everything from Guttenberg to artificial intelligence to Google, and is the best part of the book.
Carr also examines the scientific literature on multi-tasking (something people simply cannot do well), memory, and cognitive load. He argues that the internet puts more demands on executive function, leading to poorer storage and retrieval of information. This is supposed to affect our brains through neuroplasticity (changes in brain structure due to particular inputs), although he doesn't cite much evidence specific to internet use and reading. Carr's understanding of the scientific literature is fairly shallow, but not necessarily incorrect. If I were to grade his work in an introductory course on cognitive psychology, I'd have to mark him down for lack of precision.
One minor pet-peeve: Carr uses the term "the Net" to refer to the internet, which feels as out-of-touch as saying "the world wide web" or "the information superhighway." I'm guessing this was an editing decision, but it still bothers me.(less)
As I turned the last page of this book, I couldn't help but feel a bit guilty. Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke that left him unable to tal...moreAs I turned the last page of this book, I couldn't help but feel a bit guilty. Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke that left him unable to talk or move, painstakingly dictated his memoir by blinking, over the course of months. I finished reading it in an afternoon.
At the age of 44, Bauby, the former French Elle editor in chief, had a stroke that damaged his brain stem. Here's a bit of a refresher on neuroanatomy: the brain stem is an evolutionarily ancient structure at the base of the brain, right before the brain becomes the spinal cord. Newer, cortical areas of the brain are involved in recently evolved functions, such as language and planning. Deeper structures control more basic functions, such as movement, respiration, and circulation. Strokes that damage cortical areas are no picnic, but the brain is plastic enough that skills can often be relearned. Strokes that damage the brain stem, however, are catastrophic.
Following the stroke, Bauby became locked in to his own mind. His locked in syndrome meant that he was unable to move, unable to speak. He was luckier than others with the syndrome: he could blink his left eye, and he learned to move his head 90 degrees to the left.
His memoir consists of a series of non-linear vignettes that deal with his life, both before and after the stroke. He speaks of the nurses, his children, travels he went on before the stroke, former lovers, old friends. During a particularly moving scene, he writes about the imaginary meals he eats (due to the stroke, he has to be fed through a feeding tube). Because he memorized each chapter before dictating it, he was forced to be concise. His brevity adds a haunting quality to the memoir.
This book will be of interest to almost anyone, but especially those of us who are interested in the brain. Psychologists, neuroscientists, and neurologists in particular should read this book. It's amazing to see what a rich inner world can be created by those who the outer world writes off as close to vegetative.(less)