The Brain: What It Does, How It Works & How It Affects Behaviour by Dr. Catherine Loveday (book review).

As you might have noticed by the amount of non-fiction books I read, I am always in pursuit of knowledge. From a review point-of-view, it’s often to point in the right direction as to which books deserve particular attention that you might pick up and read yourself. In this case, despite its yellowy maze-like cover, Catherine Loveday’s book ‘The Brain: What It Does, How It Works & How It Affects Behaviour’ explores what goes on inside our heads. I think even I would be hard pushed to find a shorter title. Even so, it’s a subject that we all share in common but don’t explore enough.

The mechanics of the brain is something I have some familiarity with and even I started learning things from the start. I hadn’t realised that there are two different types of neurons, ones that transmit by chemical means yes, but there are others that do it only by electrical pulse. This difference has come out from examining the neurons of a giant squid which has the biggest neurons of any species. When you consider the information traffic, cross-connections and action that the brain does, it makes the Internet look very simple in comparison.

I was also struck by the effects of drugs on the neural sensors and it extends far beyond illegal substances. They invariably dampen or heighten experience and can become addictive. Seeing some areas of the flight-fight reaction draws attention to my own medical condition so I suspect if you have any such problems this book will explain some of the side-effects you experience and some of the normal foods that can help. Loveday also hits on myths that are wrong like we only use 10% of our brains when we tend to use far more. If you believe in such myths then you definitely need to be here and learn differently.

There are a lot of things noted here that you can try for yourself. Recalling childhood memories is a lot easier as you get older, especially if you can make the emotional connection to them. I wish she’d explored how we can also put memory blocks on bad things or how trivia gets so easily out into our semantic or long term memory. I did the myth-buster on memory misrepresentation and found myself siding with the experts. It might have made sense to have put a couple truths amongst them or put the answers at the back of the book to really test the reader.

Likewise, it’s also a shame empathy wasn’t explored more. After all, it is the way we react when sharing other people’s emotions or working out what is going on inside their heads at an unconscious level. It is mentioned a little more in the final chapter but when you consider how much it is used throughout our lives, I would have expected more on the subject.

The exploration of how time flies by faster when you’re having fun does make a lot of sense, mostly because you become less of a clock-watcher. Mind you, I tend to put that down to having far too much to do to pay attention to one extra thing. Her tips for time management does remind me a lot about Parkinson’s Law in allocating a particular amount of time to get something done will urge you to get things completed more efficiently.

The thoughts on the popularity of music and why only some tracks get the right resonance did make me wonder if there’s any connection to the brain’s own EEG frequencies far more than a connection to other people. I might not use a personalised music system but a lot of people do listen to their music in isolation than in crowds these days.

There is a slight reference to ESP under senses in how some people can pick up a lot more signals when communicating with people, so perhaps you are reading them like a book. As to whether precognition is pattern recognition, I’m less sure about, mostly because things rarely repeat identically in people’s lives.

For those of you interested in the mismatching of what your senses pick up into the wrong centres of the brain, it does happen a lot with creative people which means our brain wiring is a little different. I hadn’t realise until now that Jimi Hendrix’ ‘Purple Haze’ was a reference to this.

When Loveday gets into how much of our conscious mind there is, her metaphor as being the top of an iceberg is spot on. If anything, our internal CPUs are only there for key decision making while the rest of our minds are busy running our bodies. It’s no wonder that sensory deprivation messes up our minds.

The only real criticism I have is the script font for caption headings as it can be too fine and might be difficult for some people to read. Beyond that, this is an important book to read. The graphic representations puts a lot of things into context, even if I don’t understand the reason why some pages were flipped black with white text. Maybe it was to test our attention span or a reminder you are only a couple pages from the end of a chapter. Read and digest and remember how precious your brain is.

GF Willmetts

February 2018

(pub: Andre Deutsch/Goodman Books. 191 page illustrated indexed medium-sized hardback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-233-00545-4)

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