A user's guide to the brain : perception, attention, and the four theaters of the brain

by John J. Ratey

Paper Book, 2002

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Vintage Books, 2002.

Description

"For the first time ever, discoveries in our understanding of the brain are changing anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology - indeed, the brain itself may become a catalyst for transforming the very nature of these inquiries, In A User's Guide to the Brain, Dr. John Ratey, explains in lucid detail and with perfect clarity the basic structure and chemistry of the brain: how its systems shape our perceptions, emotions, actions, and reactions; how possession of this knowledge can enable us to more fully understand and improve our lives; and how the brain responds to the guidance of its user. He draws on examples from his own practice, from research, and from everyday life to illuminate aspects of the brain's functioning, among them prenatal and early childhood development; the perceptual systems; the processes of consciousness, memory, emotion, and language; and the social brain." "As the best means for explaining the dynamic interactions of the brain, Ratey offers as a metaphor the four "theaters" of exploration; 1) the act of perception; 2) the filters of attention, consciousness, and cognition; 3) the array of options employed by the brain - memory, emotion, language, movement - to transform information into function; and 4) behavior and identity. Ratey succeeds not only in giving us a compelling portrait of the brain's infinite flexibility and unpredictability but also in demonstrating how our very understanding of the brain affects who we are."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member eileansiar
Humbling, isn't it? Your brain makes you smart, or a great tennis player, renowned explorer, or beloved parent. Our emotional life rules us - that's the way it had to be for our ancestors. They had to be quick on the draw to assess other people's motives, to react to danger, to respond appropriately with joy, sadness, commiseration, surprise and all the other roles others expect of us, if they expect to remain tightly bonded to their group.

Each brain is a universe unto itself. Even the brains of twins are different, not genetically, but due to environmental factors, even in utero.

I wish I could express the surprise and dismay about how brief are the 'windows of opportunity' for being able to recognize phonemes (vital to being really good at languages), develop language syntax, acquire spatial ability, move the limbs, even to see. As early as the first six months and as late as six to twelve years important windows can be passed by, leaving the child berift of major abiities. In effect, the 'Mozart effect' occurs much earlier than most of us think. The first two or three years determine quite a bit of how the adult will fare later in life.

Love and constant encouragement are vital. Continual talking to and around baby, and yes, even to the late stage fetus. Music is vital to develop intellectual ability and spatial ability.

Ratey urges pre-pregnant women, let alone the already pregnant, to not: smoke, drink, take drugs, and to carefully monitor prescription usage with their doctor. In fact, smoking after birth won't do baby any good, either. He relates how there are substantial bad effects which reduce the baby's chances in life in regard to intelligence, emotional stability, mental health, general health, job prospects. A kid can't do much these days without a good brain. A mother wouldn't want to be responsible for any of these serious deficits, would she?

The layout of the book is very well considered, with good illustrations (but for the best illustrated brain book see my reviews on: 'Mapping The Mind' by Rita Carter. Another great guide to getting a better picture of the brain's structures is: 'Colorful Introduction To The Anatomy Of The Human Brain' by John Pinel. Click on my 'Other Reviews' section).

However, I have to say how impressed I am with John Ratey's writing style and with his knowledge. Not surprisingly, he is a neuro-psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. He comes across as a remarkable likable individual. I thought well of his advice to his daughter on going off to college, "Remember who you are."

In fact, in his chaper on memory it turns out that memory IS who we are. If we did not have a constantly accessable, contiguous knowing of 'Which I is I", as the poet Theodore Roethke put it, we would be in personal and social chaos.

And then there is the issue of consciousness - a real can of worms if ever there was one. Researchers from Philosophy to Physics are getting in on it. In my view the neurologists are the key to resolving the debate eventually, though maybe not in this century. Parts of the brain stem along with other brain centers orchestrate consciousness - in fact, that is the analogy he uses: a conductor leading an orchestra. A 40Hz electrical synchronization of many brain areas is what brings about consciosness. When enough significant areas of the brain synchronize, voila! You are jumping out of bed and heading for the shower.

The brain needs exercise! Movement is vital. Many intellectual functions are actually derived from movement. Intellectual stimulation is vital. Listen! Toss out that TV, really. It may be better to get the latest, most challenging video game if you want to challenge the brain. Better than listening passively to some 'talking head' carrying on about the day's latest disaster somewhere else in the world.

Walking, Tai-Chi (did I spell that right?), golf, volleyball, dancing, playing (not just listening to) music ... Non-passive things to DO. In the brain's development, at critical times we must be DOING activities which will enable the brain's connections to form properly. Action is the name of the game.

Ratey uses extensive referal to the latest research, but in general does it in a way that is not too irritating to the lay reader. You have to understand that in the world of Science, immortality is gained by dying after having been mentioned in the greatest number of citations.

My advice: you need to read this book! You will be surprised by what you have been carrying around on your shoulders all these years. And my hat's off to John Ratey for a supurb survey of the latest in neuro-psychiatry.
… (more)
LibraryThing member eilleansiar
Humbling, isn't it? Your brain makes you smart, or a great tennis player, renowned explorer, or beloved parent. Our emotional life rules us - that's the way it had to be for our ancestors. They had to be quick on the draw to assess other people's motives, to react to danger, to respond appropriately with joy, sadness, commiseration, surprise and all the other roles others expect of us, if they expect to remain tightly bonded to their group.

Each brain is a universe unto itself. Even the brains of twins are different, not genetically, but due to environmental factors, even in utero.

I wish I could express the surprise and dismay about how brief are the 'windows of opportunity' for being able to recognize phonemes (vital to being really good at languages), develop language syntax, acquire spatial ability, move the limbs, even to see. As early as the first six months and as late as six to twelve years important windows can be passed by, leaving the child berift of major abiities. In effect, the 'Mozart effect' occurs much earlier than most of us think. The first two or three years determine quite a bit of how the adult will fare later in life.

Love and constant encouragement are vital. Continual talking to and around baby, and yes, even to the late stage fetus. Music is vital to develop intellectual ability and spatial ability.

Ratery urges pre-pregnant women, let alone the already pregnant, to not: smoke, drink, take drugs, and to carefully monitor prescription usage with their doctor. In fact, smoking after birth won't do baby any good, either. He relates how there are substantial bad effects which reduce the baby's chances in life in regard to intelligence, emotional stability, mental health, general health, job prospects. A kid can't do much these days without a good brain. A mother wouldn't want to be responsible for any of these serious deficits, would she?

The layout of the book is very well considered, with good illustrations (but for the best illustrated brain book see my reviews on: 'Mapping The Mind' by Rita Carter. Another great guide to getting a better picture of the brain's structures is: 'Colorful Introduction To The Anatomy Of The Human Brain' by John Pinel. Click on my 'Other Reviews' section).

However, I have to say how impressed I am with John Ratey's writing style and with his knowledge. Not surprisingly, he is a neuro-psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. He comes across as a remarkable likable individual. I thought well of his advice to his daughter on going off to college, "Remember who you are."

In fact, in his chaper on memory it turns out that memory IS who we are. If we did not have a constantly accessable, contiguous knowing of 'Which I is I", as the poet Theodore Roethke put it, we would be in personal and social chaos.

And then there is the issue of consciousness - a real can of worms if ever there was one. Researchers from Philosophy to Physics are getting in on it. In my view the neurologists are the key to resolving the debate eventually, though maybe not in this century. Parts of the brain stem along with other brain centers orchestrate consciousness - in fact, that is the analogy he uses: a conductor leading an orchestra. A 40Hz electrical synchronization of many brain areas is what brings about consciosness. When enough significant areas of the brain synchronize, voila! You are jumping out of bed and heading for the shower.

The brain needs exercise! Movement is vital. Many intellectual functions are actually derived from movement. Intellectual stimulation is vital. Listen! Toss out that TV, really. It may be better to get the latest, most challenging video game if you want to challenge the brain. Better than listening passively to some 'talking head' carrying on about the day's latest disaster somewhere else in the world.

Walking, Tai-Chi (did I spell that right?), golf, volleyball, dancing, playing (not just listening to) music ... Non-passive things to DO. In the brain's development, at critical times we must be DOING activities which will enable the brain's connections to form properly. Action is the name of the game.

Ratey uses extensive referal to the latest research, but in general does it in a way that is not too irritating to the lay reader. You have to understand that in the world of Science, immortality is gained by dying after having been mentioned in the greatest number of citations.

My advice: you need to read this book! You will be surprised by what you have been carrying around on your shoulders all these years. And my hat's off to John Ratey for a supurb survey of the latest in neuro-psychiatry.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Shiva
Excellent book.

It's a mature book from a mature writer. It's organized, fairly to the point, and has not of the personal rhetoric that plagues many writers of this field. A lot of these books tend to have writers that want to spout off their personal crap without proper finding/or half decent research to back it up. Ratey usually stops before too much of his opinions start to effect what he was really trying to say.

There are a lot of new information even for a reader like me who reads a lot of these types of materials. I was especially intrigued by the researches into the motor functions, memories and learning. The parts about language learning in the brain also helped to reinforce some of my ideas about language learning.(since I have taught ESL part time for nearly 10 years) I had some indications/ideas that motor functions effects learning and memories, but I never knew that it was this much.

I would say that this is a level up book from books like "Mind, Wide Open", since we are introduced to more technical jargons/research, but it's still in plain enough writing for us to understand.

It also opened my eyes to other possibilities of psychological problems, such as perception. Frankly, as wanna be student of psychology, I am ashamed to say that I didn't think a Vision problem can contribute that much to a person's psyche. It helped me organized some ideas that I had about the brain, and it also challenged some of my beliefs on psychology.

All in all, an excellent book. I would recommend it. Use it or Lose it!
… (more)
LibraryThing member The_Hibernator
This was a very intelligent and fascinating book. I think it's supposed to be a "popular science" book on neuroscience (learning, memory, motor function, etc.), but I wouldn't recommend it to someone who is completely unfamiliar with the field. He does assume the reader is already comfortable with some of the basic terminology and concepts (like brain anatomy). Perhaps, then, it would be best for people who are already interested in the topic and would like to learn more.… (more)
LibraryThing member caffron
The title is a bit of a misnomer, not so much in content but in tone. The blurb on the front of my copy mentions "man on the street vocabulary." I'm not quite sure I would go that far. This book IS accessible, but I'd say the man on the street who hasn't gone to college might have some trouble. It's not so much the vocabulary. Although the book doesn't shy away from the neuroanatomy jargon, it does tend to explain the terms fairly well and shows pictures. Still, there is a lot of content, and if someone came to this "user's guide" with no background in psychology or neurology, he might encounter quite a challenge with information density. The approach is definitely from a medical angle in many places; e.g., here's what can go wrong when this part of the brain doesn't develop properly. Readers can learn about the workings of the brain in Everyman as well as the brain basis for psychiatric and neurological conditions. Because of the author's background, there is a little extra attention paid to autism and attention deficit disorder, but more common conditions such as stroke are also given their due.

While there are certainly anecdotes peppering the text, this book isn't as approachable as the set of stories in a more Oliver Sacks-style approach. This book does read more like a survey course in psychology than entertainment for the curious. And survey it does, building a good case for the importance of the often taken for granted aspects of perception and cognition that underlie the development of behavioral differences so often treated as simple "chemical imbalances" for which a pill is a simple cure. I appreciated that the author brought to an intelligent public the subtleties of how genetics and environment interact. Where such writers as Damasio and Schacter have written books catering to subtopics (the role of emotion in rationality and memory respectively), Ratey wants to tackle developmental psychology and plasticity following brain injury and genetic differences and the impact of social environment and...and...and. Having read fairly widely in the area of popular cognitive science, I didn't find a lot that was new here, but I was struck by the breadth and the ambitiousness of bringing so much together in what seems to be intended as a popular book. Although a brief list of suggested reading is presented, it too seems a bit confused as to its aim, sometimes aiming for the average educated layperson and sometimes a bit higher than that. The book did not seem quite "popular" enough in style to eliminate all references, but there were none. There were also some passages that seemed a bit repetitious in certain sections of the book, where descriptions had been added in two places, but editing didn't remove redundancies.

I enjoyed reading this book and integrating so many areas of neuroscience and psychology, but I think perhaps the author and his ghostwriter were still not quite sure of their audience. The parts are pulled into a whole rather well, and there is a good deal to savor. There are important discussions about how small differences untreated can lead to large difficulties in social and occupational functioning, but also important things to say about the resilience of the brain when given targeted treatment. I do recommend the work, although perhaps not to those uninitiated, who do not already know of Phineas Gage or who have never heard the terms aphasia or serotonin.
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LibraryThing member gravity-xiv
This is perhaps one of my favourite non-fiction titles. Clear and well organized, Ratey does an excellent job of making something so complex rather simple. Through usage of common vocabulary and (non redudant) repition, he explains many of the brains workings to the average reader (though perhaps one with an interest in the field). This was one of my first explorations into neurology, and it most certainly set up a good understanding for all the personal research I've done since. Highly recommended.… (more)

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