One of our New Year’s Resolutions has been to read more. So far, it’s been easy to sneak those extra minutes out of the day and immerse ourselves in a good book, usually on the MTR, before falling asleep at night, and while waiting for those friends who always claim they’ll arrive on time but never quite manage it. However, you’re not interested in our perpetual love of P. G. Wodehouse or our newfound passion for Proust. You want something interesting and succinct to peruse in the morning. This is why each month we’ll be sharing some of our recent literary discoveries with you, and contemplating the potential impact of these works on study, future prospects and the life of the mind. Basically, what are we reading, and how is it working for us? If you’re going to read, it’s far more useful to do so with a critical and analytical manner.
This month it's the turn of Dean Burnett’s The Idiot Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains What Your Brain is Really Up To. Burnett was a successful clinician, blogger and twitter presence before deciding to release this, his first, book. The work is accessible but never patronising, perhaps most notably during a very interesting discussion about memory that explores how experiences are analysed, recorded and later retrieved by a mind that is essentially egotistical. There are also numerous fascinating forays into the latest scientific research, including the surprising conclusions that less intelligent people are often more socially confident, and that alcohol, in some cases, can actually improve your memory. The book also offers a comprehensible guide to how the brain works, or at least, is supposed to work on good days.
The Idiot Brain is a reassuring celebration of just how messy, fallible and disorganised the brain is. If you’ve ever wanted to know why you forget things, or behave in ways you would otherwise find surprising, Burnett’s work offers an explanation: sometimes, your brain really is out to sabotage you. The work is, in many ways, comforting. Often we find ourselves frustrated by our inability to do things, even if we can call upon a wealth of experience that suggests we are usually reliably able to function to a high standard. Sometimes, it really isn’t stress, pressure, tiredness or stupidity; it really is our idiot brain having a bad day. The fact that the human brain is astonishingly advanced and highly evolved leads people to believe that it is infallible, but it really isn’t. It’s as feeble as the rest of our body. At least we’ll feel heartened the next time we burst into tears upon hearing a piece of music, can’t remember an answer during an exam or offend the neighbours by forgetting their names.
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