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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

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  5,450 ratings  ·  175 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 m
Paperback, 274 pages
Published May 10th 2005 by Scribner (first published 1999)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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 ·  5,450 ratings  ·  175 reviews

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Oct 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 26, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: neuroscience
Disturbingly simple depiction of the mind. Johnson is unquestionably in awe of the brain. His awe seems to have impaired his skepticism. The result is that he sensationalized what he learned and at times provided absolutely false information as if it were fact.

For example, He is under the assumption that the better people are at reading emotions, the more extroverted. Where is the evidence for such an absurd claim? This is why extraverts often misdiagnose introverts with autism, when in fact th
Nov 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1990s, dewey600s, toreread
Johnson opens with a quote from Keats

" ... let winged Fancy wander
Through the thought still spread beyond her:
Open wide mind's cage-door ..."

While reading Johnson's pages about the behavioral theory of Robert Cloninger, his theory and research showing that personalities result partly from the relative balance of neurotransmitters, I came across this quote that seemed to fit :

“Or you could be a fearless reward-independent novelty seeker, always searching out new experiences without any real conce
Jun 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
May 04, 2007 rated it liked it
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.

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
Description: Mind Wide Open speaks to brain buffs, self-obsessed neurotics, barstool psychologists, mystified parents, grumpy spouses, exasperated managers, and anyone who enjoys speculating and gossiping about the motivations and behaviors of other human beings. Steven Johnson shows us the transformative power of understanding brain science and offers new modes of introspection and tools for better parenting, better relationships, and better living. ...more
Jan 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Lauren Kampwirth
Jan 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Yep. I'm a neuroscience nerd.
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
B. Rule
Aug 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is fine but it's on the level of a breezy magazine piece. The picture it presents of the brain is a vastly simplified one, and the set-pieces Johnson delivers in each chapter skate along the surface of the implications of modern neuroscience for philosophy, sociology, politics, etc. It turns out all the rich detail got dumped in the endnotes, but my opinion of the book was well set before I got to them. This would have been a much better book if that detail had been incorporated into t ...more
Jeremy Phillips
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good stuff, if a little dated now. Lots of interesting info about brain mechanics and the psychic 0inner-world. Not too much overt speculation or blah blah about evolutionary biology. Know thyself.
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
Daniel Hadley
Oct 25, 2009 rated it liked it
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
David “Skip” 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
Jun 15, 2013 rated it liked it
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 being ...more
Debra Blasi
Dec 23, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who think they know how to think
Johnson explores the physiology of his own brain and, ergo, ours in this mainstream (i.e., not esoteric) book. His thesis is right: the more we know how our brains actually function, the more control we have over how and what we think and do. Example: Your body continues producing emotional symptoms to a fear or anxiety (like racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, knotted stomach) after your brain has moved onto other tepid topics. Therefore we sometimes *feel* toward subjects that are no longer irrele ...more
Sep 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Steele Dimmock
Feb 19, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a solid intro in to Brain Science worthy of 3.5 stars.

I got a few things out of it:
* Freud attracted a large audience because you didn't need to be mentally ill to get something out of it
* Duchenne smiles
* Experiments prove that Human's remember pain in a separate location from memories
* Your brain is nothing but drugs, constantly going in and out
* One of the effects of Prozac is the removal of rejection sensitivity
* Prefrontal Cortex function is reduced when you are sad and increased wh
Lance Agena
Sep 04, 2007 rated it it was ok
Read like a magazine article. Light reading, but I expected less of a personal narrative and more referenced studies. He provided notes at the back, but it didn't complement the main text as it should have — it felt like the notes provided an excuse for not writing about the the subject in depth. It did have some interesting parts though. However, if I really wanted further information, I suspect I'd have to read a book by one of the scientists he references.
Apr 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
Not one of my favorite Steven Johnson books. Although the premise for the book is an interesting one--that the basics of neuroscience can provide us with tools to discover new things about our attitudes and actions on an everyday basis--I felt the book was just too navel-gazing. When in doubt, Johnson talked about himself and his issues. A set of short case studies might have been more interesting.
Oct 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: myself
I learned that there is a module in our brain that inherently fears snakes...and garden hoses, and vacuum cleaner cords, and anything else that might be mistaken for one.
J Crossley
May 08, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was very interesting. The author looks at the brain, what it can accomplish, and recent research regarding the brain. The chapter on the ability to mindread other people explains how we can react to others by reading subtle cues and microexpressions. While empathy takes longer, mindreading happens in rapid-fire time.

The sections regarding ADD and autism explains that it is not so much issues with “attention” but has to do with different skills. These skills, such as visual attention,
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobook
Maybe because I've read a lot of books on neurology and the biochemical processes of the brain, maybe because it was an audiobook narrated by a guy who sounded a teeny tiny bit like the guy that narrates high school film strips. But, I had trouble staying focused on this. The content is interesting in places, particularly on the different chemicals in the brain, but it felt meandering overall. I appreciated his real world examples, but I was kind of tired of his example of the wind breaking a wi ...more
Julian Lynn
Sep 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Utilizing the strength of his genuine inquisitiveness and the backdrop of his personal and intimate reporting style, Steven Johnson causes the "science of the mind"—the subject matter of "Mind Wide Open"—to feel more immediate and engaging than most writers on the subject. Based upon Western medicine's chemical-mechanistic model about how our bodies work, Johnson tours the terrain of the working mind, as it acts and reacts to various stimuli. Multiple theoretical models are presented, encouragin ...more
Dec 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Certainly, our brain is not a component that functions standalone, but it behaves like a hub of activities by a lot of components within it. These components and chemicals are responsible for our emotions and how we can perceive ourselves. The author explains these aspects in a simple language which is easy to understand. However, I couldn't agree with a lot of aspects. No doubt, the author is obsessed with Neurosciences but often doesn't convincingly relate it to human behavior. Like relating h ...more
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very interesting read. I find the information useful. So, our brain is an assemblage of modules, with some having more autonomy than others. These modules and submodules interact but can also be in conflict with each other, and are constantly doing a balancing act. When these modules are out of sync, we get anxious and stressed.

Just like the real world, where there are differing opinions and schools of thoughts. Our brain need to process these information, with the end goal of us having a unifi
Nov 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A truly thought-provoking look into how and why our brain operates in many ways that it does and provides some interesting approaches that can change the way you look at your interactions with other people, how you engage them, how you listen (or don't), and how that understanding can help shape or change how you approach these ideas in the future.
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have more insight into how my mind works Which cannot be unknown and appreciate its impact on how I think about things in the future. For example now when I am sick or under the weather generally and get frustrated by how much harder it is to do homework, I go easier on myself because I know chemically my brain has reduced that ability in order to heal.
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating analysis of things we take for granted in what’s happening inside of our brains. Highly accessible and insightful analysis of heavy neuroscience fundamentals.

The only gripe - the last chapter got a bit lost in trying to tie Freud’s theories to today’s thinking. But overall highly recommended.
James Biser
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This is an excellent nonfiction explanation of the science of the brain. Steven Johnson is a good writer who describes his research as he spoke with experts and used his own brain as a mode. This book is well-written and very educational.
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Steven Johnson is the bestselling author of twelve books, including Enemy of All Mankind, Farsighted, Wonderland, How We Got to Now, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You.
He's the host of the podcast American Innovations, and the host and co-creator of the PBS and BBC series How We Got to Now. Johnson lives in Marin County, California,

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“…let winged Fancy wander Through the thought still spread beyond her: Open wide the mind’s cage-door… —KEATS” 1 likes
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