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Book Review: What one thing could we do to improve our relationships, our work, and the way we learn? According to Dr Medina, we should make friends with our brains and learn to work with them, not against them. In Brain Rules, Medina outlines 12 practical ideas to help acquaint us with the ways our brains function and the ways we can engage positively as individuals and as a society.
by John Medina
Seattle: Pear Press, 2008
301 pages • $29.95
(hardcover with DVD)
What one thing could we do to improve our relationships, our work, and the way we learn? According to Dr Medina, we should make friends with our brains and learn to work with them, not against them. In Brain Rules, Medina outlines 12 practical ideas to help acquaint us with the ways our brains function and the ways we can engage positively as individuals and as a society.
A self-designated “grumpy scientist,” Medina cites only research that has appeared in peer-reviewed journals and that has been successfully replicated. Remarkably, this molecular biologist is a gifted communicator who is able to write for both the scientist and the layperson. Through discussions of unusual neurological disorders, historical
examples, and avant-garde discoveries, Medina builds rapport with the reader and offers practical suggestions for personal development. Brain Rules explains our thought processes by the deft use of neuroscience and psychiatric concepts. Medina translates these concepts into understandable principles that will appeal to a popular audience.
Each chapter begins with an enticing hook, anecdote, or psychological experiment that illustrates some facet of a “brain rule.” Medina then explains the science behind the story while highlighting the importance of specific molecular changes that occur in the brain. Next, he presents guidelines for the reader to implement, such as the value of a power nap or a daily walk, to prevent neurological disorders and improve cognition. His advice provides a refreshing look at our lives through the lens of current scientific knowledge. Medina also includes several examples of current research in neuroscience to illustrate each brain rule. One interesting experiment explores the brain activity of a patient who observed a picture of Jennifer Aniston and another who viewed a picture of Halle Berry. The study, published by Dr Quiroga in Nature, used depth electrodes to monitor firing behavior of individual neurons in patients with epilepsy. One patient had a neuron that would fire only to a picture of Jennifer Aniston but not to pictures of other famous people. Another patient had a neuron that responded to a picture of Halle Berry dressed as Catwoman, but not to other actors dressed as Catwoman. This experiment helps explain so-called experience-dependent learning and shows how each brain is actually wired differently depending on the experience of the individual. By using examples of famous actors, Medina engages us in what might otherwise be a somewhat dry scientific discussion.
Medina even explores brain differences between men and women and notes the “troubled history” of such discussions. Nevertheless, he provides helpful scientific information that neither supports stereotypes nor completely destroys them. In such discussions, he is first a scientist, helping the reader look at the facts and understand the biology before interpreting its application. The book includes a supplementary DVD that summarizes the key points of each chapter via interviews with prominent business figures and scientists and by using skits followed by an explanation of the science. The segments are peppered with Medina’s quirky sense of humor, which makes the DVD all the more memorable.
Brain Rules provides entertaining examples and important advice to improve our cognitive processes without ignoring the underlying molecular mechanisms. Because of this, the book offers insights for both the neuroscientist and the casual reader and provides an important bridge between molecular science and self-improvement.