Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To

W. W. Norton & Company
24
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"Entertaining…[A] grand tour around modern cognitive science and psychology." —Wall Street Journal

The brain is an absolute marvel—the seat of our consciousness, the pinnacle (so far) of evolutionary progress, and the engine of human experience. But it’s also messy, fallible, and about 50,000 years out of date. We cling to superstitions, remember faces but not names, miss things sitting right in front of us, and lie awake at night while our brains endlessly replay our greatest fears. Idiot Brain is for anyone who has ever wondered why their brain appears to be sabotaging their life—and what on earth it is really up to.

A Library Journal Science Bestseller and a Finalist for the Goodreads Choice Award in Science & Technology.

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About the author

Dean Burnett is a neuroscientist and research associate at the Centre for Medical Education at Cardiff University. He writes a popular science blog called Brain Yapping for the Cosmic Shambles Network and dabbles in stand-up comedy. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.

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4.3
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Additional Information

Publisher
W. W. Norton & Company
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Published on
Jul 25, 2016
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9780393253795
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Psychology / Cognitive Neuroscience & Cognitive Neuropsychology
Science / Cognitive Science
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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An interdisciplinary view of the evolution and consequences of flexible social cognition—the capacity to withhold the inference of mental states to other people.

In Invisible Mind, Lasana Harris takes a social neuroscience approach to explaining the worst of human behavior. How can a person take part in racially motivated violence and then tenderly cradle a baby or lovingly pet a puppy? Harris argues that our social cognition—the ability to infer the mental states of another agent—is flexible. That is, we can either engage or withhold social cognition. If we withhold social cognition, we dehumanize the other person. Integrating theory from a range of disciplines—social, developmental, and cognitive psychology, evolutionary anthropology, philosophy, economics, and law—with neuroscience data, Harris explores how and why we engage or withhold social cognition. He examines research in these different disciplines and describes biological processes that underlie flexible social cognition, including brain, genetic, hormonal, and physiological mechanisms.

After laying out the philosophical and theoretical terrain, Harris explores examples of social cognitive ability in nonhumans and explains the evolutionary staying power of this trait. He addresses two motives for social cognition—prediction and explanation—and reviews cases of anthropomorphism (extending social cognition to entities without mental states) and dehumanization (withholding it from people with mental states). He discusses the relation of social cognition to the human/nonhuman distinction and to the evolution of sociality. He considers the importance of social context and, finally, he speculates about the implications of flexible social cognition in such arenas for human interaction as athletic competition and international disputes.

Recent neuroscience, in replacing the old model of the brain as a single centralized source of control, has emphasized plasticity,the quality by which our brains develop and change throughout the course of our lives. Our brains exist as historical products, developing in interaction with themselves and with their surroundings.Hence there is a thin line between the organization of the nervous system and the political and social organization that both conditions and is conditioned by human experience. Looking carefully at contemporary neuroscience, it is hard not to notice that the new way of talking about the brain mirrors the management discourse of the neo-liberal capitalist world in which we now live, with its talk of decentralization, networks, and flexibility. Consciously or unconsciously, science cannot but echo the world in which it takes place.In the neo-liberal world, plasticitycan be equated with flexibility-a term that has become a buzzword in economics and management theory. The plastic brain would thus represent just another style of power, which, although less centralized, is still a means of control. In this book, Catherine Malabou develops a second, more radical meaning for plasticity. Not only does plasticity allow our brains to adapt to existing circumstances, it opens a margin of freedom to intervene, to change those very circumstances. Such an understanding opens up a newly transformative aspect of the neurosciences.In insisting on this proximity between the neurosciences and the social sciences, Malabou applies to the brain Marx's well-known phrase about history: people make their own brains, but they do not know it. This book is a summons to such knowledge.
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