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Wednesday, January 19

Mind Hacks

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"Mind Hacks" Tips & Tools for Using your Brain in the World By Tom Stafford, Matt Webb - Reviewed for Bookzen by KJR

"Mind Hacks" is an excellent starting place for the exploration of the human mind, apparently a very popular interest right now. Curiosity regarding how we think seems in vogue, since so many are reading one of a group of recently published books on the subject. Including "Mind Hacks" there is "The Mind Map" by Tony Buzan and Barry Buzan, "Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" by Malcolm Gladwell" The Undiscovered Mind" by John Horgan, "On Intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins (PalmPilot creator) and Sandra Blakeslee, and from Steven Johnson, who wrote the Foreword to "Mind Hacks, " there is "Mind Wide Open. "

All of these delve into that uncharted land called how our grey matter works and how we can live better lives by knowing more about it. Each of these books has a delightfully different take on the subject, and "Mind Hacks" itself is full of references for further reading. Is it more than just a co-incidence that these books are all out right now, being talked about, blogged about, and voraciously read? Why this insatiable synchronicity of people wanting to know more about how we are made and how we think?

In more classical studies, "Mind Hacks" would be filed under physical and cultural anthropology. And though you will be introduced to words like limbic, cortex and cerebellum, keeping track of technical medical terms is not essential for understanding and learning much from this book. While it seems written for popular audiences, and uses everyday examples to illustrate how we as human beings tend to think, and why, "Mind Hacks" is helpfully structured to take you just as deep as you want to go.

As to whether the mind can be hacked, just ask a songwriter, movie producer or ad exec; though by "hacks," the authors really mean examples, and there are hundreds. For instance, why do we tend to see faces when we look at clouds? Why do we scrutinize other peoples' faces so intently? Why, if we see six of the same thing, do we tend to see the seventh object as the same, too, even if it isn't? Why do we smell chalk when we think of Dick, Jane, and that "silly, silly Spot?" What do we really find irresistibly interesting and what bores us to death? Did left-handed people evolve differently and why do they have more traffic accidents? Why are some people better at math? Why do sunglasses make the world more interesting visually? (It's all in the mind.) Why do people respond differently to the same instructions? And by implication, what is the best way to design a web page? All of this is covered in "Mind Hacks" including which sectors of the brain are responsible, and how the research was done.

is a good starting place for exploring your mind, partly because it would fit nicely with some of the other books mentioned here and in the book itself, but also because Mind Hacks is at the center of an expanding culture of exploration and investigation of mental phenomena,including blogs about "Mind Hacks" and related phenomena (just technorati "Mind Hacks" for instance.) There are the sites of the book's publisher O'Reilly for starters and a page relating to topics covered in "Mind Hacks" about why posting flickr zeitgeist might be a distraction for people who actually want to read your blog, and there is the excellent "Mind Hacks" blog itself, which does not seem to be accessible from the O'Reilly site. Both authors have their own blogs - Idiolect by Tom Stafford and Interconnected by Matt Webb.

"Mind Hacks" suggests that you can read it sequentially or dive in randomly.
Either way it is an accessible book about some of the curiously strange ways in which we think, remember, and respond, based on how we evolved and what was then and is now most important to us as biological organisms. Even better, it is totally overflowing with examples and simple exercises -- the "hacks" -- that you can do by yourself or with friends. Better yet, buy the book and give a "Mind Hacks" party! Ask your guests to open the book randomly, exclaim on the particular mental characteristic explained on that page, and then put everyone through the exercise or group discussion implied. Like, "How do you prefer your first cup of morning coffee, and how do you feel if you don't get it that way?" Pavlov got it right more than a hundred years ago.

And speaking of Pavlov's dogs, there is much in "Mind Hacks" to suggest that we humans share many of our emotions, thoughts and feelings with other animals, whose brain structures evolved similarly and whose reactions in research are so similar.

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