Great Myths of the Brain

Great Myths of the Brain

by Christian Jarrett


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The brain has never been subject to such intense scrutiny, barely a day passes without a newspaper splashing the results of the latest brain scan study purporting to reveal the neurological location of happiness, love, rage, or any number of human emotions. Yet for all of the gains in our understanding of brain function credited to scientific research, there is a growing body of hype and misinformation about how the brain works.

Great Myths of the Brain presents a comprehensive examination of myths surrounding the function of the human brain. Cognitive neuroscience expert Christian Jarrett takes on well over 50 myths associated with brain function—from those based on falsehoods or partial truths to ones cloaked in scientific language. Jarrett first explores general myths, such as the idea that we only use 10 per cent of our brains, or that adults can’t grow new brain cells. He then goes on to address a variety of more contemporary issues, including technological myths (can brain scans really read your mind?); structural myths, including the recent hype around mirror neurons; perceptual myths, including the idea that you perceive the world as it really is; and a variety of contemporary myths swirling around brain disorders—including epilepsy, autism, and dementia. Illuminating and insightful, Great Myths of the Brain takes some of the mystery out of the most mysterious and complex organ in the human body.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781118312711
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 11/17/2014
Series: Great Myths of Psychology Series
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,296,237
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Christian Jarrett has a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of Manchester. He is editor of the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest; author of the Brain Watch blog for WIRED; a blogger for Psychology Today; and columnist for 99U, the New York-based creativity think tank. Dr. Jarrett is also the author of The Rough Guide to Psychology (2011) and editor of 30 Second Psychology (Icon Books)


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xii

Introduction 1

1 Defunct Myths 15

#1 Thought Resides in the Heart 15

#2 The Brain Pumps Animal Spirits Round the Body 18

#3 Brain Cells Join Together Forming a Huge Nerve Net 21

#4 Mental Function Resides in the Brain’s Hollows 22

2 Myth-Based Brain Practices 25

#5 Drilling a Hole in the Skull Releases Evil Spirits 25

#6 Personality Can Be Read in the Bumps on the Skull 28

#7 Mental Illness Can Be Cured by Disconnecting the Frontal Lobes 30

3 Mythical Case Studies 37

#8 Brain Injury Turned Neuroscience’s Most Famous Case into an Impulsive Brute 37

#9 The Faculty of Language Production Is Distributed Through the Brain 40

#10 Memory Is Distributed Throughout the Entire Cortex 45

4 The Immortal Myths 51

#11 We Only Use Ten Percent of Our Brains 51

#12 Right-Brained People Are More Creative 55

#13 The Female Brain Is More Balanced (and Other Gender-Based Brain Myths) 65

#14 Adults Can’t Grow New Brain Cells 74

#15 There’s a God Spot in the Brain (and Other Lesser-Spotted Myths) 80

#16 Pregnant Women Lose Their Minds 87

#17 We All Need Eight Hours of Continuous Sleep (and Other Dozy Sleep Myths) 92

#18 The Brain Is a Computer 101

#19 The Mind Can Exist Outside of the Brain 106

#20 Neuroscience Is Transforming Human Self-Understanding 115

5 Myths about the Physical Structure of the Brain 135

#21 The Brain Is Well Designed 135

#22 The Bigger the Brain, the Better 140

#23 You Have a Grandmother Cell 146

#24 Glial Cells Are Little More Than Brain Glue 149

#25 Mirror Neurons Make Us Human (and Broken Mirror Neurons Cause Autism) 154

#26 The Disembodied Brain 160

6 Technology and Food Myths 177

#27 Brain Scans Can Read Your Mind 177

#28 Neurofeedback Will Bring You Bliss and Enlightenment 192

#29 Brain Training Will Make You Smart 201

#30 Brain Food Will Make You Even Smarter 209

#31 Google Will Make You Stupid, Mad, or Both 217

7 Brain Myths Concerning Perception and Action 235

#32 The Brain Receives Information from Five Separate Senses 235

#33 The Brain Perceives the World As It Is 242

#34 The Brain’s Representation of the Body Is Accurate and Stable 249

8 Myths about Brain Disorder and Illness 258

#35 Brain Injury and Concussion Myths 258

#36 Amnesia Myths 265

#37 Coma Myths 273

#38 Epilepsy Myths 280

#39 Autism Myths 286

#40 Dementia Myths 294

#41 The Chemical Imbalance Myth of Mental Illness 300

Afterword 316

Index 318

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

The more we are interested in the brain and how it explains our behaviour, the more important it is that we rid ourselves of untruths and half truths. Myth buster extraordinaire, Christian Jarrett, is an engaging and knowledgeable guide who spring cleans the cobwebs of misinformation that have accumulated over recent years. You will be surprised at some favourite beliefs that turn out to be scare stories or wishful thinking. Yet, Jarrett conveys a strong optimism about fresh approaches that will result in new knowledge.  All claims are well substantiated with references. It will be fun to learn from this book.—Professor Uta Frith, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience

Christian Jarrett is the ideal guide to the fascinating, bewildering and often overhyped world of the brain. He writes about the latest discoveries in neuroscience with wonderful clarity, while cleanly puncturing myths and misinformation.—Ed Yong, award-winning science writer, blogger and journalist

Great Myths of the Brain' provides and incredibly thorough and engaging dismantling of neurological myths and misconceptions that abound today. For anyone overwhelmed by copious bogus neuroscience, Christian Jarrett has generously used his own mighty brain to clear this cloud of misinformation, like a lighthouse cutting through the fog.—Dr Dean Burnett, Guardian blogger, Cardiff University

Lots of people cling to misconceptions about the brain that are just plain wrong, and sometimes even dangerous. In this persuasive and forceful book, Christian Jarett exposes many of these popular and enduring brain myths. Readers who want to embrace proper neuroscience, and arm themselves against neurononsense will enjoy this splendid book, and profit greatly from doing so.—Elizabeth F. Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California, Irvine

Christian Jarrett, one of the world’s great communicators of psychological science, takes us on a neuroscience journey, from ancient times to the present.  He exposes things we have believed that just aren’t so.  And he explores discoveries that surprise and delight us.  Thanks to this tour de force of critical thinking, we can become wiser—by being smartly skeptical but not cynical, open but not gullible—David G. Myers, Hope College, author, Psychology, 11th Edition

A masterful catalogue of neurobollocks.—Dr Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science and Bad Pharma

In this era of commercialized neurohype, Christian Jarrett’s engaging book equips us with the skills for spotting the authentic facts lost in a sea of brain myths. With compelling arguments and compassion for the human condition, Jarrett teaches us that the truth about the brain is more complicated, but ultimately more fascinating, than fiction.—The Neurocritic, neuroscientist and blogger

Christian Jarrett has written a wonderful book that is as entertaining as it is enlightening. When it comes to brain science, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Jarrett has done us all a great service by peeling back the layers of hype to reveal what we really do know - and don't know - about how the brain functions.—Prof Christopher C French, Goldsmiths, University of London

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