Our Eccentric Brain

Title: How We Learn, by Benedict Carey
(The Surprising Truth about When, Where, and Why it Happens)
Publisher: Random House (Sept 2014)
272 pp
Genre: Nonfiction, psychology, education, self test, memory, learning
4 Stars ****
Author: Benedict Carey is a NYTimes award winning science and medical reporter. Previously he worked for the LA Times. Carey has written numerous fascinating and wide ranging articles. Strangely I love his obituaries, of scientific people. He is also the author of two science adventures for teens: Island of the Unknowns and Poison Most Vial.
Story line:
This is a relatively short book for an extensive subject of the cognitive science of learning. Carey has made it an interesting, engaging read, easy to follow. There is practical advice on how to apply learning and memory to our own lives. An appendix neatly summarizes Essential Questions in 6 pages.
I was intrigued by Mary Roach’s statement “I feel as if I’ve owned a brain for 54 years and only now discovered the operating manual.” And had to read his book. While I enjoyed this, it is written (and very well) for a general audience, with much feeling like common sense and perhaps even old fashioned (therefore not surprising). Repetition is essential to learning. Although it is only part of it. Good habits and sleep are essential. Problem solving and concentration are also important. Life doesn’t have multiple choice questions.
Learning is different for everyone, and learning how the brain retrieves information will be useful to most people. I was interested in people learning by creating scenes, while I always listened to music. Mendelsohn’s Hebridian overture with Leonard Bernstein was essential study tool. I still have several recordings in multiple formats!
This deserves a wide reading, especially for an aging population. Let’s not forget to learn. Having said that, teenagers could greatly benefit too.
Read on:
Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit
Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast and Slow
Greg Frost Maximizing Brain Control
Peter C. Brown Make it Stick
Barbara Oakley A Mind for Numbers
Gabriel Wyner Fluent Forever – my next read!
Quotes:
If the brain is a learning machine, then it’s an eccentric one, and it performs best when its quirks are exploited.
Any memory has …a storage strength and a retrieval strength…the old dog quickly relearns old tricks.
Don’t forget your brain vitamins
Normally, when I am visited by the Ghost of Physics Past, I was not entirely patient.
Testing is studying, of a different and powerful kind.
Using our memory changes our memory in ways we don’t anticipate.
Testing has brought fear and self-loathing into so many hearts….
I’ll leave it to others to explain Mozart.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

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