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After reading A User's Guide to the Brain, the words "It's all in your head."
Can never be taken lightly again. The reader will learn that "it", life
and any participation we have in it, begins and ends in the brain. And the
phrase "Use your head" is laughable because there is no way to not
use one's head beginning with the most simplistic recoiling from a hot flame to
the more complex building of a nuclear plant.
This book is so comprehensive as to be too comprehensive and will
probably not appeal to the average homemaker nor even
the average brain surgeon.
This is not to say that this book
is not interesting or understandable. It is eminently both. For instance, did
you know that when someone says, "I can 't hear
you, I need my glasses." that there is some biological validity to this?
Likewise, you will find it interesting to know that there is probably a sixth
sense, but it not your hunches-it's a sense of direction.
However, sprinkled amid all the fun
facts are the text book lessons that offer much more information then the
casual reader might like and much less than any specialist would need. The
parent of an ADHD child will learn, for instance, that their child is addicted
to the "present" and immediate gratification. They will learn why the
primary drugs used with ADHD work on improving concentration skills. Nice, yet
parent's own concentration skills will be taxed when wading through
explanations such as , "Once we are aroused and oriented, the reward and
novelty system kicks in, governed by the mesolimbic
pathway (a group of dopamine-containing neurons), which is a key driver of the limbic
system." The specialist might find that interesting, but if they are
looking for information with ADHD kids, this book offers only a few pages.
The author, Ratey,
begins at the beginning of brain development when the sperm penetrates the egg
in Chapter One on Development. The author lays the foundation for all that
works right in our brains and all that goes haywire. Yet, even with the creative imagery to help
us understand such things as how the dendrites don't quite touch like "the
outstretched fingers of God and Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine
Chapel," the explanations of axons, dendrites, hundreds of thousands of
synapses, neurons, cortexes and white-matter fibers cannot be presented in any
manner that makes them anything but mind-numbing.
In Chapter Two: Perceptions, I
found the nugget that gave me the energy to read on. It is how to enjoy a meal.
It takes one minute of continuous eating to make a taste bud adapt. After that,
the food loses its panache. But if you eat alternating mouthfuls of food, you
don't adapt and have fresh bursts of flavor. This doesn't support the more
gourmet 'course' approach to dinning but does favor the American habit of
piling everything on the table now-in order to eat alternating fare and keep
the flavor fresh.
You will be happy to know that
lower violence in adults in associated with parental physical affection.
However, it is distressing to find out that one of the ways we came to learn
this is by Frederic II of the Holy Roman Empire (13th
children away from their parents and refusing to let any one touch or talk to
them. They all died never learning to talk.
It is fascinating to know that 70%
of amputees suffer from burning, itching, and pain in their phantom limbs and
it is not "wish fulfillment" of their minds for the missing limb. It
is real sensation. You can't play ping pong with ear muffs on because your
vision is cued with sound to help you prove what you hear. We "see"
better with the use of our ears. Rose colored glasses actually can help a
number of dyslexics and the nose may be the most powerful sex organ we have.
I found the chapter on memory to be
the most fascinating. It's pretty common knowledge that our memories are
malleable and that what we think we remember is not as concrete as we would
like to believe. We learn why many "abuse and satanic cult" memories
turn out to be false and how they are formed in the first place. It is also
absorbing to think that the only reason the "I Am" is possible is
because we can remember that "We Were." Our memories are not merely tokens of the
past but powerful forces behind what we believe. This is reflected in the oral
traditions of many tribal societies.
"One Seneca Indian elder tells the story of 'the remembering,' the
moral of which is that people who spiritually incorporate the stories of the
past become greatly gifted, while people who disdain the past are doomed
to repeat its mistakes."
User's Guide to the Brain contains many fun facts of brain chemistry, explanatory
illustrations, science to back up the Ratey's
lessons, the history of what we think we know about the brain, not only how our
brain affects us but how what we do affects our brain, everything that can and does
go wrong with our brain and how to protect what you were blessed with. But who
can or will use The User's Guide to the
The book is difficult to sit and
read through as a whole, but contains enough genuine titillating facts to be
worth keeping around as a bathroom reader. Its biggest fault is that it tries
to be all things to all people, and master to none. Its biggest strength is the
captivating tidbits sprinkled liberally throughout. The people who might use
the user's guide to the brain? Baby boomers, myself included, who need good
excuses for the normal tell-tale signs of aging (hey, it's necessary to forget
or our minds would get clogged). Ratey's book will also comfort us in knowing that diet,
exercise and mental activities will indeed help stave the steady decline that
all of us from the I-didn't-want-to-live-past-30 generation now faces.
"Use it or lose it" is the main conclusionary
message of the book .
You already knew that and so why would buy the book? It is for those of
us who want to know why using it will help keep us from losing it. Bon appetite, Brain.
© 2003 Shelly Marshall
Shelly Marshall, B.S., CSAC is an
Adolescent Chemical Dependency Specialist
Researcher. You can visit her site at http://www.day-by-day.org