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Authors: Sam Wang,Sandra Aamodt

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Welcome to Your Brain

BOOK: Welcome to Your Brain
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Welcome to Your Brain


Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and

Other Puzzles of Everyday Life

Sandra Aamodt, ph.D. and Sam Wang, ph.D.

Bloomsbury USA

From Sandra, to Ken and Aquila

From Sam, to Dad, Becca, and Vita




Quiz How Well Do You Know Your Brain?

Introduction Your Brain: A User’s Guide

Part 1—Your Brain and the World

Chapter 1 Can You Trust Your Brain?

Chapter 2 Gray Matter and the Silver Screen: Popular Metaphors of How the

Brain Works

Chapter 3 Thinking Meat: Neurons and Synapses

Chapter 4 Fascinating Rhythms: Biological Clocks and Jet Lag

Chapter 5 Bring Your Swimsuit: Weight Regulation

Part 2—Coming to Your Senses

Chapter 6 Looking Out for Yourself: Vision

Chapter 7 How to Survive a Cocktail Party: Hearing

Chapter 8 Accounting for Taste (and Smell)

Chapter 9 Touching All the Bases: Your Skin’s Senses

Part 3—How Your Brain Changes Throughout Life

Chapter 10 Growing Great Brains: Early Childhood

Chapter 11 Growing Up: Sensitive Periods and Language

Chapter 12 Rebels and Their Causes: Childhood and Adolescence

Chapter 13 An Educational Tour: Learning

Chapter 14 Reaching the Top of the Mountain: Aging

Chapter 15 Is the Brain Still Evolving?

Part 4—Your Emotional Brain

Chapter 16 The Weather in Your Brain: Emotions

Chapter 17 Did I Pack Everything? Anxiety

Chapter 18 Happiness and How We Find It

Chapter 19 What’s It Like in There? Personality

Chapter 20 Sex, Love, and Pair-Bonding

Part 5—Your Rational Brain

Chapter 21 One Lump or Two: How You Make Decisions


Chapter 22 Intelligence (and the Lack of It)

Chapter 23 Vacation Snapshots: Memory

Chapter 24 Rationality Without Reason: Autism

Chapter 25 A Brief Detour to Mars and Venus: Cognitive Gender Differences

Part 6 — Your Brain in Altered States

Chapter 26 Do You Mind? Studying Consciousness

Chapter 27 In Your Dreams: The Neuroscience of Sleep

Chapter 28 A Pilgrimage: Spirituality

Chapter 29 Forgetting Birthdays: Stroke

Chapter 30 A Long, Strange Trip: Drugs and Alcohol

Chapter 31 How Deep Is Your Brain? Therapies that Stimulate the Brain’s Core

A Note on the Authors


In our careers so far, we have written over half a million words about the brain, but that experience

only partially prepared us for writing this book. We have wondered why acknowledgments run so

long. Now we know.

When Jack Horne learned that both of us were planning to write the same book, he suggested we

combine our efforts. Sandy Blakeslee and Jeff Hawkins recommended their agency, Levine

Greenberg, to us, and vice versa. Our agent, Jim Levine, and his assistant, Lindsay Edgecombe,

helped us shape the book’s tone and content. All authors should have such expert guides for their first

book. Beth Fisher connected us with publishers around the world. At Bloomsbury USA we have been

lucky to work with our editor, Gillian Blake, who has been enthusiastic from the beginning and has

provided an experienced hand. She, Ben Adams, and the Bloomsbury crew have improved our words

and thoughts and kept us moving forward. Thanks are also due to Lisa Haney and Patrick Lane for

beautiful illustrations and to Ken Catania, Pete Thompson, Ted Adelson, and Michael MacAskill for

permission to use technical images.

We wrote a substantial part of the book at the Villa Serbelloni on the shores of Lake Como in

Bellagio, Italy, an experience made possible by the Rockefeller Foundation and words of support

from Jane Flint, Bob Horvitz, Charles Jennings, Olga Pellicer, Robert Sapolsky, and Shirley

Tilghman. Pilar Palacia, Elena Ongania, and the rest of the Villa Serbelloni staff created an elegant

but relaxed atmosphere for thinking, talking, and writing. Our fellow residents provided a great forum

and we thank them all: Anne Waldman, Ed Bowes, Seemin Qayum, Sinclair Thomson, Raka Ray,

Ashok Bardhan, Richard Cooper, Joan Kennelly, Jane Burbank, Fred Cooper, Russell Gordon,

Jennifer Pierce, Dedre Gentner, Ken Forbus, David and Kathy Ringrose, Len and Gerry Pearlin,

Bishakha Datta, Gautam Ojha, Sushil Sharma, Helen Roberts, Rodney Barker, Cyrus Cassells,

Andrée Durieux-Smith, and Roger Smith.

Friends, colleagues, and students helped and encouraged us tremendously and were the source of

invaluable suggestions, discussions, and corrections. We are especially grateful to Ralph Adolphs,

Daphne Bavelier, Alim-Louis Benabid, Karen Bennett, Michael Berry, Ken Britten, Carlos Brody,

Tom Carmichael, Gene Civillico, Mike DeWeese, David Eagleman, Neir Eshel, Michale Fee, Asif

Ghazanfar, Mark Goldberg, Astrid Golomb, Liz Gould, David Grodberg, Patrick Hof, Hans Hofmann,

Petr Janata, Danny Kahneman, Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy, Ivan Kreilkamp, Eric London, Zach Mainen,

Eve Marder, David Matthews, Becca Moss, Eric Nestler, Elissa Newport, Bill Newsome, Bob

Newsome, Yael Niv, Liz Phelps, Robert Provine, Kerry Ressler, Rebecca Saxe, Clarence Schutt,

Steven Schultz, Mike Schwartz, Mike Shadlen, Debra Speert, David Stern, Chess Stetson, Russ

Swerdlow, Ed Tenner, Leslie Vosshall, Larry Young, and Gayle Wittenberg. Sam thanks his entire

laboratory for accommodating his preoccupation, especially Rebecca Khaitman for excellent

assistance. The Princeton University library was an essential resource. Finally, we thank Ivan

Kaminow for telling us about the cell phone trick. Any remaining problems with the science, of

course, are our responsibility and not theirs.

Our spouses went far beyond the call of duty in supporting us and this project, keeping us as sane

as possible. Sandra thanks Ken Britten for his tolerant amusement at the prospect of entertaining

himself for yet another weekend while she worked on the book and for his enthusiastic contributions

to many shared adventures. She also thanks her parents, Roger and Jan Aamodt, for teaching her that

girls too can take risks in pursuit of their dreams. Sam thanks Becca Moss for her partnership, her

aplomb in the face of yet another crazy idea that got out of hand, and for providing a light when things

got dark. Finally, Sam thanks his parents, Chia-lin and Mary Wang, for planting the seeds of a lifelong

love of science and learning.



How Well Do You Know Your Brain?

Before you start reading this book, find out what you already know about your brain.

1) When are your last brain cells born?

(a) Before birth

(b) At age six

(c) Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three

(d) In old age

2) Men and women have inborn differences in

(a) spatial reasoning

(b) strategies for navigation

(c) ability to leave the toilet seat down

(d) Both a and b

(e) Both b and c

3) Which of the following is
likely to improve brain function in old age?

(a) Eating fish with omega-3 fatty acids

(b) Getting regular exercise

(c) Drinking one or two glasses of red wine per day

(d) Drinking a whole bottle of red wine per day

4) Which of the following strategies is the best one for overcoming jet lag?

(a) Taking melatonin the night after you arrive at your destination

(b) Avoiding daylight for several days

(c) Getting sunlight in the afternoon at your destination

(d) Sleeping with the lights on

5) Your brain uses about as much energy as

(a) a refrigerator light

(b) a laptop computer

(c) an idling car

(d) a car moving down a freeway

6) Your friend is trying to tickle your belly. You can reduce the tickling sensation by

(a) putting your hand on his to follow the movement

(b) biting your knuckles

(c) tickling him back

(d) drinking a glass of water

7) Which of the following activities is likely to improve performance in school?

(a) Listening to classical music while you sleep

(b) Listening to classical music while you study

(c) Learning to play a musical instrument as a child

(d) Taking breaks from studying to play video games

(e) Both c and d

8) Which of the following things is a blow to the head least likely to cause?

(a) Loss of consciousness

(b) Memory loss

(c) Restoration of memory after suffering amnesia

(d) Personality change

9) Which of the following activities before a test might help you to perform better? (You may

choose more than one.)

(a) Having a drink

(b) Having a cigarette

(c) Eating a candy bar

(d) Telling yourself with great conviction that you are good at this kind of test

10) You are in a noisy room, attempting to talk to your friend on your cell phone. To have a clearer

conversation, you should

(a) talk more loudly

(b) cover one ear and listen through the other

(c) cover your ear when you talk

(d) cover the mouthpiece when you listen

11) Which of the following is an effective way to reduce anxiety?

(a) Antidepressant drugs

(b) Exercise

(c) Behavioral therapy

(d) All of the above

12) Which of the following is the hardest thing your brain does?

(a) Doing long division

(b) Looking at a photograph

(c) Playing chess

(d) Sleeping

13) Blind people are better than sighted people at which of the following?

(a) Understanding words

(b) Hearing sounds

(c) Remembering stories

(d) Training dogs

14) Your mother was improving your brain capacity when she told you which of the following


(a) “Turn that music down”

(b) “Go out and play”

(c) “Practice your instrument”

(d) All of the above

15) Memory starts to get worse in which decade of life?

(a) Thirties

(b) Forties

(c) Fifties

(d) Sixties

16) Which activities kill brain cells?

(a) Drinking three bottles of beer in an evening

(b) Smoking a joint

(c) Dropping acid

(d) All of the above

(e) None of the above

17) Which depiction of neurological damage is least realistic?

(a) Guy Pearce’s character Leonard in

(b) Drew Barrymore in
50 First Dates

(c) Dory in
Finding Nemo

(d) John Nash in
A Beautiful Mind

18) What percentage of mammalian species are monogamous?

(a) 5%

(b) 25%

(c) 50%

(d) 90%

19) What percentage of your brain do you use?

(a) 10%

(b) 5% when you are sleeping, 20% when you are awake

(c) 100%

(d) Varies according to intelligence

20) When Einstein’s brain was compared with the average person’s, it

(a) was larger

(b) was indistinguishable in size

(c) had more folds on the surface

(d) had an extra part

Answers: 1) d, 2) d, 3) d, 4) c, 5) a, 6) a, 7) e, 8) c, 9) b and d, 10) d, 11) d, 12) b, 13) c, 14) d,

15) a, 16) e, 17) b, 18) a, 19) c, 20) b


Your Brain: A User’s Guide

I used to think my brain was my most important organ. But then I thought: wait a minute, who’s

telling me that?

—Emo Phillips

In our decades of studying and writing about neuroscience, we have often found ourselves discussing

the brain in strange places: at the salon, in taxicabs, and even in the occasional elevator. Believe it or

not, people don’t run away (usually). Instead, they ask us all sorts of interesting questions: “When I

drink, am I killing my brain cells?” “Does cramming for an exam work?” “Will playing music during

pregnancy make my baby smarter?” “What is wrong with my teenager [or parent]?” “Why can’t you

tickle yourself?” “Do men and women think differently?” “Can you really get amnesia from being hit

on the head?”

All these questions lead to your brain, the amazing three pounds in your skull that make you

BOOK: Welcome to Your Brain
4.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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