ALPHABETICAL BRAIN™ VOCABULARY
HUMANIST GALAXY OF
SECULAR BRAIN SCIENCE STARS
July 17, 2019


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MAXIMUM BRAINPOWER:
Challenging the Brain
for Health and Wisdom


by Shlomo Breznitz
and Collins Hemingway.
Ballantine Books, 2012 (268 pages)


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BOOK OUTLINE
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INTRODUCTION (ix-xii)

This book is about becoming more capable in our daily lives; being able to accurately assess and navigate the world, knowing what to pay attention to and what not to, thinking and planning ahead, and making the right decisions. It is about changing the inherent way we perceive and respond to the world. In addition, it is about recognizing that a fit brain is probably the most important contributor to a long, healthy, and active life. (ix-x)
    "Because our minds are the core of our existence, understanding the brain may be the most important and fundamental task before us." (x)

    "Who we are, after all, is a manifestation of our brain activity. We are our cognitive life: our perceptions, our thoughts and memories, our personalities." (xii)
PART 1 --- MAXIMUM BRAINPOWER IN THE REAL WORLD (1-63)

QUOTE BY AUTHOR = "Why Brainpower Is Not About How We Do on Tests But How We Do in Life." by Shlomo Breznitz.

1) WHY EXPERTS KNOW NOTHING (3-16)
    [1] Of soldiers and roadside bombs (6-7)

    [2] Of pigeons, paintings, and photos (7-10)

    [3] Of brains, computers, and learning (10-16)

    [4] Lessons in brainpower (16)

      "Our conscious minds often have no idea what we are learning unconsciously." (16)
2) THE FALSE LESSONS OF FALSE ALARMS (17-27)

3) THE MANY DANGERS OF EXPERIENCE (28-38)

4) DISORDERED THOUGHT OR GENIUS? (39-49)

5) DON'T BE BLIND — GETTING THE BRAIN TO SEE AFRESH (50-63)

PART 2 --- THE CASE FOR HEAVY MENTAL LIFTING (65-123)

6) THE FONT OF COGNITIVE FITNESS (67-84)

7) BUILD COGNITIVE RESERVES (85-101)

8) LONELY NEURONS DIE (102-114)

9) THE WAY THE BRAIN CHANGES AND GROWS (115-123)

PART 3 --- CHANGE AS A PATHOGEN (125-166)

10) WHY NOT CHASE AFTER CHANGE? (127-140)

11) DENIAL OF STRESS (141-151)

12) THE HEALING POWER OF HOPE (152-166)

PART 4 --- WHAT TO DO (167-186)

13) LIFE IS NOT ENOUGH TO CHALLENGE THE BRAIN (169-211)

14) OCCUPATIONAL AGILITY (187-198)

15) EDUCATION FOR CHANGE (199-211)

PART 5 --- THINKING AHEAD (213-247)

16) TOO ANCIENT FOR OUR LIVES (215-226)

17) SAILORS PASSING THROUGH A PORT (227-238)

18) LEAVE ROOM ENOUGH TO THINK (239-247)

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (249-250)

BIBLIOGRAPHY (251-255)

GENERAL TOPICS OF INTEREST (257)

Notes:
    [1] There are "24 Topics of Interest" including: the cognitive processes of experts to figure out how their expertise emerges. It is the beginning of our story about how the brain works, how it is shaped by experience, and how experience can be good or bad depending on our response.

    [2] "Thin Slicing" They cannot explain how they know. Gigerenzer speaks of a gut feeling — an unconscious, immediate "fast and frugal" aspect of cognition that is strong enough to act upon even though we are not fully aware of why.

    [3] Gladwell calls this ability "thin slicing," describing it as an automated, accelerated ability to find patterns in a small amount of information.
INDEX (259-268)

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AUTHOR NOTE, SUMMARY,
AND BOOK DESCRIPTION

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS =

[1] Shlomo Breznitz is the founder of CogniFit, a company devoted to the goal of improving cognitive fitness. The author of seven books and many scientific articles, he has been engaged as a visiting professor by numerous leading institutions, including the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, and the London School of Economics.

[2] Collins Hemingway is a writer and technologist who has co-written several books and written many articles for the general public.

SUMMARY = Written by internationally renowned cognitive psychologist Breznitz and technologist Hemingway, the book provides both an in-depth look at how the brain works and proven methods to increase its capabilities. With the right mental tools, we can all maximize our brainpower and keep our minds sharp, healthy, and cognitively fit throughout life. The book is filled with colorful real-life stories and fascinating psychological experiments, many published here for the first time, this revelatory work can help adults of any age build and retain their mental acuity.

BOOK DESCRIPTION = We all understand the importance of daily exercise in keeping physically fit. But mental exercise is just as essential to our health and well-being --- especially when it comes to defending against forgetfulness, memory loss, and even dementia. These and other age-associated afflictions were once regarded as all but inevitable, but in fact, as this eye-opening, inspiring book shows, there is much we can do to protect ourselves as we grow older. Experts are able to reduce a complex situation to a simple one very fast through a process of "unconscious inference." Did you know that experts are often less mentally agile than jacks-of-all-trades? That mental exercises such as crossword puzzles and sudoku are of minimal help in building brainpower? That multitasking poses unique dangers to the brain by presenting us with an environment in which we never evolved enough to thrive?

Breznitz knows—and what's more, he knows what to do about it. Think better, live better, be better by reading the book! Really, it is a no-brainer.

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PROFESSIONAL BOOK REVIEW HIGHLIGHTS
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[1] "Dr. Shlomo Breznitz is, by virtue of his lifelong ingenuity, a rare combination of scientific creativity and sobriety, and decades of research on two of the most important areas of brain research --- how to protect the brain from stress and how to develop it through mental exercise --- one of the most suitable people on the planet to write this interesting, realistic, practical, clear book on what most people need to do to preserve and maximize their brain capacity. Publishers

[2] It is a wonderfully helpful book, for young and old, on how to keep the brain invigorated and developing into old age. After reading it, you will understand what you must do for your brain, and why you must do it. -- Norman Doidge M.D., New York Times bestselling author of The Brain That Changes Itself

[3] "Everyone knows the importance of physical fitness; less appreciated is the necessity of cognitive fitness. How do you maintain an exercised, stimulated, flexible brain? St art by reading this book." -- David Eagleman, New York Times bestselling author of Incognito

[4] "The book is well written and each page stimulates the reader to read the next. Moreover, the topic itself—the brain and its secret powers—is profound, rich, and enriching. In other words: Because of its forceful suggestions, its analyses, and its wide knowledge, this book is well worth reading. And re-reading." -- Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and author

[5] "Most books about healthy brain maintenance just give you the ‘how'; this one tells you 'why'. And it helps you do it." -- Rita Carter, author of Mapping the Mind

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EXCERPT - CHAPTER ONE
PART 1: MAXIMUM BRAINPOWER
IN THE REAL WORLD

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    Why Brainpower Is Not About How We Do on Tests But How We Do in Life.
WHY EXPERTS KNOW NOTHING

John Smith is a tall, lanky Londoner with a flair for silk ties. He works in an office amid piles of coffee cups and soft-drink cans—anything with caffeine. He stares all day long at a wall of computer screens. John makes millions of dollars a day, and he has no idea how.

John's story is the story of the expert—the person who has so much ability and experience that he or she finds quick solutions to complicated problems that vex the rest of us. We all know experts. The auto mechanic who in ten minutes fixes an engine that stumps everyone else in the garage. The cook who with a single sip identifies the one missing ingredient that will make a good soup great. The engineer who draws by hand an airfoil design as efficient as that produced by a computer. The doctor who plucks the correct diagnosis out of thin air, unsupported by tests and scans (think television's Dr. House, only with nicer bedside manners).

Experts process a problem through the vast amounts of knowledge and experience they have accumulated, and out pops an answer—usually the correct one, sometimes an unexpected one. I met John, a currency trader, before the introduction of the euro, at a time when every European country still had its own currency. Most large companies hold and trade different currencies in order to pay bills in local currencies and to avoid being caught with excessive holdings in case one currency's value declines. Financial institutions actively trade in currency as they would in any stock or commodity, in the hopes of making money by determining whether a particular currency will go up or down.

John was one of those institutional mavericks who was exceedingly good at what he did. His specialty was buying and selling U.S. dollars against the German mark. Known as "the money factory," he brought in millions of dollars in profits every month. The large international financial institution where he worked feared that competitors would steal him away, or that he'd simply retire. He had made so much money for himself and for the company over the years that he no longer needed to work.

How did this trader do it? How did he regularly bet on the right currency? The company leaders decided that perhaps a smart psychologist might be able to tell them, which is where I came in. By gaining insights into John's intellectual methods and analytical processes, they hoped to protect themselves against his possible departure and to learn how they might train others to achieve similar results.

For days I sat next to John on the trading floor amid his computers and clutter. There were other traders in the middle of the floor, calling out offers to buy or sell. It was very, very busy, and very, very dull. Hour after hour, we watched the screens as the dollar and mark went up and down against each other. I saw every uptick and downtick that he did. I heard the same announcements. We watched news on economic and political activity all over the world on the "tickers" streaming by on the screens. Over the course of several days, he made modest trades, but nothing spectacular. Very boring stuff. A currency trader must be well paid to sit through this kind of tedium all of his life.

Then, one day, he was suddenly electrified. He held up his hand, flashing his fingers to signal "five," then "three." I scanned the screens. I zoned in on every word the sellers on the floor were saying. Nothing obvious had happened, and yet—within a few seconds—John had bought eight million marks! Before long, the value of the mark began to rise. By the close of trading, this gentleman and his company had made a very tidy profit.

By then, John and I had become friendly. Over a few pints of Guinness after work, I asked him why he had bought marks at that particular moment. I expected a technical analysis relating to economic news or monetary policy. Or perhaps, like an experienced chess player who has seen about every gambit imaginable, John had detected a series of clever moves by other traders and was able to exploit them for his own gain. His answer?

"I suddenly felt," he said, "The mark wants to go up."

Say again?

"It was a feeling. ‘It feels like the mark wants to go up.'"

We talked for quite a while. I don't believe he was putting me on, or putting me off. He genuinely could not explain his instinct to buy marks at that particular moment. It was a feeling. He could not say how or where he could "feel" it. He just could. He was influenced by something he couldn't verbalize. Perhaps tension crept into the voices of the brokers on the trading floor. Perhaps there was some pattern in the movements of rates that he picked up unconsciously. Perhaps, at some unconscious level, he recalled a similar pattern from a few weeks or months before. Perhaps his own large purchase, coming out of nowhere, created a mini-stampede that drove the price of the mark higher. But people bought and sold marks all day, often in large volumes. How did he know when the time was right to make his move? He didn't know. The effort to understand his process was a total waste of time.

My shadowing project ended a short time later when the bank was sold, but I do not believe I would have learned anything more if I had remained by John's side for a year, or even ten. I would have experienced a great deal of boredom for nothing. He was right about when to trade currency. That is all there was to say.

John's inability to explain his strategy is no isolated example. Gerd Gigerenzer, in his book Gut Feelings, writes about police officers who can instantly spot a drug carrier in a crowd on the basis of nothing more than a "hunch." Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, describes art experts who can, at a glance, tell whether a statue is an authentic work or a forgery. They cannot explain how they know. Gigerenzer speaks of a gut feeling—an unconscious, immediate "fast and frugal" aspect of cognition that is strong enough to act upon even though we are not fully aware of why. Gladwell calls this ability "thin slicing," describing it as an automated, accelerated ability to find patterns in a small amount of information.

Experts are able to reduce a complex situation to a simple one very fast through some process of unconscious inference. This chapter explores the cognitive processes of experts such as John to figure out how their expertise emerges. It is the beginning of our story about how the brain works, how it is shaped by experience, and how experience can be good or bad depending on our response.

Of Soldiers and Roadside Bombs

People who work in harm's way learn to rely on the indefinable instincts that mark the expert, the "feelings" that do not come from the conscious verbal pathways that we commonly identify with "thinking." These instincts probably stem from the more primitive pathways of the brain, the parts of the limbic system -- the "old brain" -- that kept our ancient forebears alive when there was no time to evaluate situations in a calm and reflective manner. Police officers and soldiers in particular learn to "trust their gut" on dangerous streets and roadways.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices (IEDs, or roadside bombs) have caused more than half of all of the deaths of American and coalition soldiers plus untold numbers of civilians. Several hundred other IED attacks occur every month elsewhere in the world. The United States alone has been spending more than two billion dollars a year trying to counter IEDs, using heavier armor, spy aircraft, ground robots, and a variety of electronic devices to discover and disable them. Yet there have only been two consistently reliable approaches to finding roadside bombs, neither of which is sophisticated. The first is getting information from locals about where the IEDs are planted. The second is relying on soldiers who spot the devices from moving vehicles.

It turns out that a small number of combat veterans have an uncanny knack for detecting these bombs. Some of the signs of an IED require nothing more than close observation. A normally busy street is deserted. A pile of debris appears along a road that was recently cleared. Vehicles are left in unusual places for no apparent reason. At times, however, a "bomb-sniffing" soldier simply has a "feeling" -- like our currency trader -- that something has changed. Once a bomb is discovered it is possible to speculate on what small clue the observer might have spotted, but at the crucial moment, it is usually only a single soldier -- often the same one -- who is able to detect something that is amiss.

Why?

One clue may come from experiments involving pigeons.

Of Pigeons, Paintings, and Photos

Birds as a whole, and pigeons in particular, have great perceptual skills. Pigeons can distinguish differences in geometric shapes, colors, and patterns, and between classes of items such as cats, chairs, cars, and flowers. They can recognize themselves in mirrors, as only a few other species can. In one study, pigeons learned to discriminate between paintings by Picasso and Monet. After training, the birds were able to identify the painters' work, correctly categorizing paintings that they had never seen before. Eventually, they even learned to pick out paintings that were either cubist (Picasso's style) or impressionist (Monet's). Their success was identical to that of college students who were given the same amount of instruction. Not bad for bird brains.

Humans have recognized the military value of these birds for some time. First employed as battlefield messengers...

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Shlomo Brenitz

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