A Guided Tour of 'Your Brain' Two neuroscientists have written a book for a general audience to debunk misconceptions about how the human brain works. The result is Welcome To Your Brain.
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A Guided Tour of 'Your Brain'

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A Guided Tour of 'Your Brain'

A Guided Tour of 'Your Brain'

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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.

How the brain works is one of humanity's great mysteries. A lot of what we think we know about the brain turns out to be wrong, so two neuroscientists decided to write a book for all of us, not just the scientists, aimed at debunking myths about the brain. It's called "Welcome to Your Brain."

From member station KUSP, Rick Kleffel has their story.

RICK KLEFFEL: Sandra Aamodt, the editor in chief of the journal Nature Neuroscience, has an unusual problem.

Ms. SANDRA AAMODT (Co-Author, "Welcome to Your Brain"): It's almost as bad as being a plumber or a doctor to go to a party and say that you study the brain, because everybody has so many questions that they want answered.

KLEFFEL: That's because most of us know so little about the brain. Sam Wang is an associate professor of neuroscience at Princeton University.

Professor SAM WANG (Princeton University): There's a lot of folklore about how the brain works that you can run across in television and in the movies. And it'll typically go something like, Gilligan gets bonked on the head and forgets who he is. It's kind of like your old television. You know, you hit it a few times and then it starts working again. This does not happen. Head bonk is bad.

KLEFFEL: Both scientists decided to write a book that would explore popular perceptions of how the brain works, debunk the myths, and offer an easily readable exploration of the brain. Sandra Aamodt.

Ms. AAMODT: We have a lot of mutual friends, and one of them introduced us and informed us that we had been talking about writing the same book.

KLEFFEL: That friend was Jack Horne, an assistant professor in the department of biology and health sciences at Pace University. He worked with Aamodt and knew Wang from college. Both have mentioned to Horne they were writing their first book, which would debunk the common misconception that we only use 10 percent of our brain.

Professor JACK HORNE (Pace University): They were both saying, you know, I'd like to write a book for everyone out there besides the neuroscientists. So they both sort of brought that myth up and that sort of clicked. Hmm, these books sound rather familiar.

KLEFFEL: Aamodt and Wang decided to collaborate rather than compete. In their book, "Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose the Car Keys But Never Forget How to Drive," they say we use our whole brain all the time. But they understand the appeal of the so-called 10 percent myth.

Ms. AAMODT: It's so democratic, and it gives you scope for self-improvement. I mean, think if you could use 12 percent of your brain. It doesn't seem like it should be that hard.

Prof. WANG: People say that Einstein used 13 percent.

Ms. AAMODT: Pretty sure Einstein didn't have any more luck with his car keys than the rest of us.

KLEFFEL: Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang have written extensively for scientific journals, but their collaboration for a general audience required a different approach.

Prof. WANG: One of the things we worked on was how to adopt a single voice in writing. And that took a few tries. And we - after a few chapters, we got a rhythm going.

Ms. AAMODT: We made a rule early on that we weren't going to use track changes when we pass chapters back and forth to each other, because if a change wasn't important enough to notice, it wasn't important enough to complain about.

KLEFFEL: Each chapter of the book includes self-contained capsules that offer insights into how the brain works. In this reading, Wang and Aamodt addressed the topic of jet lag.

Prof. WANG: Jet lag is not simply annoying. In repeated doses, it can be dangerous to your brain's health. People who frequently cross many time zones can experience brain damage and memory problems.

Ms. AAMODT: Luckily, unless you work for an airline, you probably don't need to worry about this problem, since very few people fly across multiple time zones more often than every two weeks.

KLEFFEL: Even though they were debunking myths and misconceptions, Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang didn't want to just be negative.

Ms. AAMODT: What we ended up vowing to ourselves was that every time we took away a myth, we were going to give an equally interesting fact in return. So we really made a big effort to find every positive, useful thing that we could tell people about how to become better brain owners.

KLEFFEL: One useful suggestion for students - take a break. Two study sessions with time between them is twice as effective as a single study session of the same total length.

For NPR News, I'm Rick Kleffel.

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