The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius

The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius

by Zach Schonbrun


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The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius by Zach Schonbrun

“A must-read for the cerebral sports fan . . . like Moneyball except nerdier. Much nerdier.”
—Sports Illustrated

Why couldn’t Michael Jordan, master athlete that he was, crush a baseball? Why can’t modern robotics come close to replicating the dexterity of a five-year-old? Why do great quarterbacks always seem to know where their receivers are?

On a quest to discover what actually drives human movement and its spectacular potential, journalist, sports writer, and fan Zach Schonbrun interviewed experts on motor control around the world. The trail begins with the groundbreaking work of two neuroscientists in Major League Baseball who are upending the traditional ways scouts evaluate the speed with which great players read a pitch. Across all sports, new theories and revolutionary technology are revealing how the brain’s motor control system works in extraordinarily talented athletes like Stephen Curry, Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and Lionel Messi; as well as musical virtuosos, dancers, rock climbers, race-car drivers, and more.

Whether it is timing a 95 mph fastball or reaching for a coffee mug, movement requires a complex suite of computations that many take for granted—until they read The Performance Cortex. Zach Schonbrun ushers in a new way of thinking about the athletic gifts we marvel over and seek to develop in our own lives. It’s not about the million-dollar arm anymore. It’s about the million-dollar brain.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101986332
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/17/2018
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 88,630
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Zach Schonbrun has been a contributing writer for the New York Times since 2011, covering primarily sports and business. His work has also appeared in ESPN magazine, Newsday, the Washington Post, Yahoo! Sports, VICE, and SB Nation Longform. He is the author of One Great Shoe, which was selected as one of the best Kindle Singles of the year in 2015. He lives in New York City with his wife.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Decervo 7

"How Can You Think and Hit at the Same Time?"

2 The Movement Chauvinist 47

Why We Have a Brain

3 The Motor Hunter 77

Why Stephen Curry is a Genius

4 "From Mind to Muscle" 119

How the Motor Cortex was Found

5 The Neurotech Space 153

Out of the Lab

6 Searching for the Motor Engram 187

The Intelligence in our Skin

7 Embodied Expertise 225

Watch and Learn

8 The Body in Space 259

How Tom Brady Won Super Bowl Li

9 A Paralyzed Man Who Moved 293

The Future of Movement

Acknowledgments 317

On Sources 321

Selected Bibliography 323

Index 331

About the Author 341

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The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
literarymuseVC 11 months ago
Many years ago, I recall reading an article about how Tiger Woods learned to golf so well by the scientific methods taught to him by his father. Curious, I never pursued that interesting fact, but it came to mind again with this book about the brain and athletic performance. The brain can be trained for athletic performance up to a certain age, exemplified by the author’s reference to Michael Jordan who had an interest in baseball but couldn’t grow in the required skills and yet had what was needed for baseball. Dagmar Sternad has an Action Lab at Northeastern University. Here she experimented with the game skittles, demonstrating how timing from the brain and physiology conspires to make us winners or losers and how movement or kinetic patterns and features could be retained for up to eight years. There is also an interesting discussion of skills that are learned and involve brain activity but can not develop further because of “habit” that negates any further learning curve from progressing. This involves “action controllers, “automatization” or even “muscle memory” as an action or sequence of actions that get formed, reorganized and consolidated in our long-term memory. And so it goes. These are a few of the examples and explanations that tell the story of athletic and normal action in an understandable presentation, such as the reflex arc, the feed-forward loop of sensory-to-motor connections that trigger everyday actions or the position of neural swing decisions in baseball, tennis and volleyball serves. The factor of intention is also discussed as in using a scalpel to operate or to murder. The same applies about these motor skills applied to kinematics or movement. All in all, “stimulus-response connections build up a nervous system of sets which function like cognitive maps.” The authors even describe how “virtual arms” learn to operate or are taught by science to understand the training behind using these prostheses. Anyone interested in physical activity, sports, coaching etc. will find this book fascinating and interesting for practice or just understanding the theories and applications that apply when playing or watching sports. Highly recommended and engaging science in a credible, readable book. Nicely done, Zach Schonbrun!