The Left Brain Speaks The Right Brain Laughs: A Look at the Neuroscience of Innovation & Creativity in Art, Science & Life from Viva Editions
Ransom Stephens scientist, author, speaker
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Neuroscience books to check out
1. Robert Burton, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not, St. Martin’s Press, 2008. One of my top-five, all-time favorite neuroscience books. Written in a curious, authentic tone by a neurologist, Bob guides us through the question of how we come to believe what we know. 2. Robert Burton, A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves, St. Martin’s Press, 2013. In this one, Bob works through the holes in the data and warns us about what is and isn’t on solid scientific ground. 3. Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Broadway Books, 2012. Cain includes lots of studies of how people operate individually and in groups. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but she cherrypicks studies that support her argument that introverts kick extroverts’ asses—as an introvert, I applaud this—and quotes studies with highly uncertain evidence that can mislead people who’ve never studied statistics. 4. Rita Carter, Mapping the Mind, University of California Press, updated edition, 2010. One of my top-five, all-time favorite neuroscience books. Rita Carter is a medical journalist and her books are big, colorful, and wonderfully illustrated works that describe every gyri and sulci. She does her level best to identify processing centers in every instance where the field has provided evidence. If you want to know the anatomical details, this is the book for you. 5. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow, Basic Books, 1997. 6. Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Penguin Books, 1994; and Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, Vintage Books, 2010. Dr. Damasio did the pioneering research on the emotion-reason connection. 7. Stanislaus Dehaene, The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics, Oxford University Press, 2011. Dehaene makes the case that quantitative understanding is like a sense. If you’re a teacher and want to understand why mathematics is difficult for so many people and figure out better ways to teach it, read this book. I particularly enjoyed the studies he referenced on how birds and animals (other than humans) count and estimate quantities. 8. Paul Ekman, Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, second edition, Holt Paperbacks, 2007. 9. Gerald M. Edelman, Wider Than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness, Yale University Press, 2005. This is a little rough going, but if you have a background in science, reading this book is like sitting at the knee of a genius as he struggles with the questions that drive him. 10. Michael S. Gazzaniga, Who’s in Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain, HarperCollins, 2011. Dr. Gazzaniga has done a great deal of work studying the complementary and collaborative functions of the left and right hemispheres and has written a pleasant, heartfelt, and readable book. 11. Steven Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, W.W. Norton, 1981. 12. Jeff Hawkins, On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines, St. Martin’s Press, 2004. Great food for thought about plasticity and how the brain develops algorithms and adapts to situations, all oriented toward the physical source of intelligence. 13. Douglas Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop, Basic Books, 2007. This has lots of great stuff about nonlinearity, chaos, and feedback loops. 14. Steven Johnson, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, Scribner, 2001. 15. Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, Random House, 2012. One of my top-five, all-time favorite neuroscience books. I love this book! One of those rare cases when it’s worth paying extra to get the hardcover version. Big, beautifully formatted, with tons of color pictures, and Dr. Kandel, Nobel laureate for his pioneering work in memory, writes in kind of an innocent, curious voice--he even includes a picture of his wife as an example of beauty. This book had a huge influence on how I approached the subject. I learned a great deal about value and empathy and the neural interactions of creators and beholders from The Age of Insight. 16. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011. Written by an economics Nobel laureate, this is an in-depth discussion of unconscious bottom- up processors and conscious top-down processors. Rather than use a metaphor, the way I did with unconscious thoughts boiling or percolating up into top-down consciousness, he simply calls them system 1 and system 2. 17. Christof Koch, Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist, MIT Press, 2012. One of my top-five, all-time favorite neuroscience books because of his forthcoming, personal writing style, or because he’s a physicist and I speak his language, or maybe because we agreed on the topic of free will, so I was primed to love it. This book was a key source for the idea that consciousness could be a spectrum rather than a complexity threshold effect and how integrated information theory might be able to calculate the degree of consciousness of a system. 18.  Matthew D. Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, Crown Publishers, 2013. Lieberman has a different view of human interaction than most researchers. For example, he expresses a lot of doubt about the existence of mirror neurons and offers less conventional ideas on topics like autism and theory of mind, and he is a proponent of mentalizing. 19. Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, Yale University Press, 2009. 20. Isaac Newton, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, 1687; in English, Principia, 1728. 21. Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, W.W. Norton, 1997. 22. V. S. Ramachandran, The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human, W.W. Norton, 2011. Definitely one of my top-five, all-time favorite neuroscience books. He covers his rules of neuroaesthetics, the main topic of our chapter 8. While he tends to leap a bit before looking, that is, he doesn’t quite require a preponderance of evidence before accepting a discovery, his ideas are wonderful, and he writes with curiosity and bemusement. 23. Sebastian Seung, Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. 24. David Shenk, The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ, Anchor Books, 2010. 25. Mark Turner, The Origin of Ideas: Blending, Creativity, and the Human Spark, Oxford University Press, 2014.
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Bibliography & Recommended Reading