July 19, 2019

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The Complete Mind: How It Develops,
How It Works,
and How to Keep It Sharp

by National Geographic, 2009
with a Foreword by Richard Restak (vii)


FOREWORD by Richard Restak (vii)

"Now thanks to new and safer technologies we are able to visualize the healthy brain in color-coded three dimensional images. These images hae provoked widespread excitement and research. As a result, we have learned more about the human brain during the last 20 years than the previous 500." (vii)

"Throughout our lives, we establish neuronal pathways within our brains that are composed of millions of nerve cells. As we get older, these pathways increase in complexity a process which is similar to the branching of a tree as it grows. Our cognitive abilities evolve as an accompaniment to this anatomical and functional brain complexity." (vii)

But the most inspiring insight about your brain is that you "can enhance your brain's performance by your own efforts. Thus learning about your brain provides a wonderful mix of instruction, amazement, and self-improvement. As you gain more brain knowledge, you are in a better position to improve your brain's functioning and thereby increase the quality of your life!"


note = There are 14 special "features" that "bring out the fascinating dimensions of the human brain," including subsections, diagrams, fast facts, tables, fact boxes, cross references, sidebars about what can go wrong with your brain, flow charts, specialized glossaries as well as a comprehensive glossary, breakthrough sidebars, staying sharp sidebars, and history sidebars. (viii-ix)


note = Your "brain should need no introduction! You should know it intimately," because it is "what makes you you. But it is a paradox that the organ that lets you know and connect with the world understands so little about itself." (1)

[1] Knowing itself Understanding the brain (2-9)

FAST FACT #1 = "External stimuli can physically alter the brain, for example, stress weakens the encoding of memories." (3)

FAST FACT #2 = "The idea that the mind survives the body's death appears quite ancient. Burial sites from 100,000 years ago reveal bodies interred with tools and food, possibly to help on journeys in the afterlife. Cave art possibly depicts spirit worlds." (4)

[2] Nerve cells The brain's workforce (10-16)

note = There are two fundamental types of brain cells. "One type of nerve cell, the neuroglia cells [or "glial", which means "glue" in Greek], support the other type of nerve cells called neurons ... "Glial cells come in six varieties." (10)

(1) Neurons (10-11)

FAST FACT #3 = "The human brain has about 100 billion neurons and about 50 trillion neuroglia." [latest Stanford U. count in 2018 is 100-200 billion neurons and more than 50 trillion glial cells] (10)

(2) Anatomy of a neuron (11-12)

(3) Neurons at work (12-13)

(4) Making connections (13)

(5) Plasticity (13)

"Neurons are not physically bound to each other like so many lengths of pipe, so they have the flexibility to make, break, and remake relationships with other neurons. The ability to reshape neural interactions in the brain is referred to as plasticity. The brain's ability to rewire itself helps it stay sharp." (13)

FAST FACT #4 = "The number of synapses may be as high as 1,000 trillion,or the number 1 followed by 15 zeroes." (13)

(6) Communications (13-14)

QUOTE = "All that you know, all that you are, comes from the way your neurons are connected." by Tim Berners-Lee who was one of the creators of the Internet. (13-14)

QUOTE = "A piece of information is really defined only by what it is related to. The structure is everything. There are billions of neurons in your brain, but since neurons are just cells, your brain has no knowledge until connections are made between your neurons." by Tim Berners-Lee. (13-14)

"Transmissions between neurons take place in two stages. The first is electrical. An electrical discharge travels the length of an axon. When it reaches the axon terminal that abuts the synaptic space, it sets the second stage in motion." (14)

"This button, like the rest of the nerve cell, has an outer wall called a membrane. The outside of the membrane [its "envelope"] contains a solution of messenger chemicals. These electrically charged chemicals move in the solution, constantly poised to respond to an impulse and exit through small openings of the membrane and into the synapse. When an electrical impulse arrives from the axon, if it is of sufficient strength, it trips a trigger that releases one of the messenger chemicals, called a neurotransmitter, from its storage place in the button." (14)

"The neurotransmitter chemical then enters the synapse and traverses the synaptic cleft in its attempt to link up with the dendritic membrane of a receptor cell. The trip across the synapse takes only a thousandth of a second!" (14)

"The receptor cell's surface contains specially shaped docking sites, so particular neurotransmitters can dock only at the appropriate places, just as a key needs exactly the right shape to fit into a lock." Then, "the neurotransmitter either excites the receptor cell into action or dampens it into inaction. Once the receptor cell has been stimulated by the neurotransmitting chemical, the communication reverts to an electrical signal." Then that electrical signal "travels the length of the new cell until it reaches the synapse of another receptor cell, and starts the process all over again." (14-15)

(7) Neurotransmitters (14-16)

"After they have done their job in the synaptic space between nerve cells, neurotransmitting chemicals are reabsorbed by the transmitting neuron and prepared for re-release [which is a process known as reuptake] or broken down and metabolized by enzymes in the synaptic space." (16)

note= "Neurons can repeat the electerochemical firing process up to a thousand times each second." (16)

FAST FACT #5 = "The brain devotes huge amounts of neural circuitry to the hands, lips, and tongue." (16)

(8) Lifespan (16)

[3] Glossary (17)

[4] Anatomy Different parts, different responsibilities (18-23)

(1) Protection (18-19)

(2) Brain cushion (19)

(3) Protection (19)

(4) Four divisions (19)

note = "The brain may appear to be a uniform mass of folded, pink tissue. But a closer look reveals different lobes, regions, structures, and parts that all help regulate body functions, interpret information from the body and react to stimuli." (19)

Your 'brain has four main parts the cerebrum, diencephalon [roughly the limbic system], cerebellum, and brainstem." (19)

(5) Cerebrum (20)

The "largest, topmost layer of the brain is called the cerebrum. It is what most people visualize when they use their brains to picture their brains. The external layer is called the cerebral cortex. Its outer portion is gray from the presence of billions of nerve cell bodies, while the inner portion is white from the tangle of axons coated in their myelin sheaths" [that are made out of glial cells]. (20)

"In the cerebral cortex lies the core of information processing that separates humans from other animals, including reason, language, and creative thought." You have more of your brain in your cerebral cortex [approximately 76%] than any other animal! (20)

"A portion of the frontal lobe of each of your two cerebral hemispheres, which is called the precentral gyrus, controls your body's movements. Oddly, each hemisphere moves the opposite side of your body, as if your brain's wiring is crossed." (20)

(6) Fissures & hemispheres (20-21)

(7) The frontal lobe (21)

(8) Parietal lobe & temporal lobe (22)

(9) Occipital lobe (23)

Note = See explanation for medulla oblongata (23)

(10) Diencephalon (23)

(11) Cerebellum (23-24)

(12) Medulla oblongata (23)

(13) Fueling the brain (23)

[5] Looking inside Seeing the brain at work (24-31)

(1) Outside looking in (24-25)

Note = What is intelligence? (26-31)

(A) Defining intelligence (26)

(B) Types of smarts (26-27)

(C) Family influence (27-28)

(2) First glimpse (28-29)

(3) A better look (29)

(4) Computerized visions (29-30)

(5) Brain mapping (30)

(6) Seeing thoughts (30-31)

Note = "Science has made great strides in describing how the brain's parts, both large and small, function" ... "The brain is an integrated unit, with its complexity arising from the synergy created by the simultaneous functioning of its billions of neurons and trillions of synapses in nonlinear ways." (31)

"Science has learned much about movement, sensations, emotions, and the sense of self. Yet much is yet to be gleaned about the most complicated object in the universe." (31)


[1] In harmony How the nervous system runs the body (34-40)

Note = See divisions of the nervous system chart (37)

(5) The cerebral cortex (39)

(6) The autonomic nervous system (39-40)

note = Staying Sharp List of five things you can do to lessen the impact of stress on your brain and reduce chronic exposure to cortisol and other dangerous stress hormones: (40)

1. Slow your thoughts through meditation, deep-breathing exercises, and yoga.

2. Maintain ties with family and close friends. Strong social connections foster a sense of well-being.

3. Laugh a lot. Laughter increases oxygen intake and the release of endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters.

4. Stay rested. Being overtired can raise levels of stress hormones, but sleep can lower them.

5. Exercise a lot. Physical activity lowers cortisol levels in your body.

(7) Two branches (40)

Note = Autonomic nervous system has two equally important halves, which are reciprocal and complementary. The sympathetic branch works when your body's sense of self-preservation is activated and it can trigger the "fight or flight" response and to give you quick energy. The parasympathetic branch is the calmer, quieter side of your nervous system. It is responsible for the "relaxation response." (40)

"The midbrain signals to the body to lower breathing rate, heartbeat, and blood pressure. As a result, the brain promotes and recognizes a feeling of well-being." (40)

Mindfulness and other forms of meditation and stress management programs stimulate the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system while soothing your sympathetic branch. (40)

(8) Shock to the systems (40)

[2] Glossary (41)

[3] Messengers Relaying information to and from the brain (42-51)

Note = Serial processing and reflex arc (42)

Note = "Reflexes are almost instantaneous. They provide protective, involuntary reactions to a stimulus." (42)

[4] Delicate balance The brain's equilibrium (52-63)

FAST FACT # = "Four ions sodium, potassium, calcium, and choride regulate electrical charges in synapses." (58)

[1] Homeostasis (52)

[16] Endocrine system (61-62)

FAST FACT # = "About the size of an almond, the small hypothalamus plays a big role in both the nervous and endocrine systems." (61)


[1] Evolution Growth & adaptation of the human brain (66-71)

(1) Simple brains (66)

note = Charles Darwin is credited with developing the "theory of evolution" in the most detail during the late 1980s claiming that "individuals that have a biological advantage are more likely to outlive their peers and pass their edge to offspring." (66)

(2) Growing complexity (66-67)

note = Darwin's book On the Origin of Species in 1859 downplayed the idea that evolution by natural selection applied to human beings as well as animals, but his book The Descent of Man in 1871 detailed how human group cooperation improved survival benefits and were spread to next generations as common traits. (66-67)

(3) Evolutionary clues (68-69)

(4) The three brains (69-70)

note = In 1967 Paul MacLean claimed that "the human brain functions as three separate brains, each of which represents a stage in evolutionary development. He referred to the three-way unity as humanity's 'triune brain.'" (69)

1. R-complex or reptilian brain = Brainstem and cerebellum Regulates survival tasks and basic bodily functions (69)

2. Limbic system = Amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus Primary centers of emotion and simple memory formation. (69)

3. Cerebral cortex = Cerebrum Responsible for language, including speech and writing, and is involved in problem solving, memory, and planning for the future as well as controlling voluntary movement, and processing sensory information. (69)

(5) Specialization begins (70-71)

(6) Gender differences (71)

(7) Preprogramming (71)

[2] A new brain From the womb to childhood (72-83)

[3] Waves of changes An adolescent brain (84-91)

[4] Maturity Finding balance as the brain ages (92-96)

[5] Glossary (97)

4) THE SENSES (98-133)

[1] Perception How the brain experiences the outside world (100-105)

note = Perception and the sensing process due to five major senses. (100)

Fast Fact = quote about Buckminster Fuller, who wore earplugs and special glasses to block out sensory stimuli and free his mind! (101)

[2] Sights & sounds How vision and hearing work (106-115)

note = processing sounds in the ear (113)

[3] Smell & taste Cooperative senses (116-121)

note = Processing tastes with Tongue Taste Regions illustrated (121)

[4] Touch Registering a multitude of sensations (122-127

[5] Integration Bringing the senses together (128-132)

Notes = (126-127)

[5] Glossary (133)

FAST FACT = Motor and sensory areas (136-137, 45, 148-149, 152-153)

Shared roles in different regions of cerebral cortex = functions of regions.

5) MOTION (134-167)

[1] Brain in action Thoughts and motions (136-145)

[2] Silent running Involuntary movements (146-150)

[3] Glossary (151)

[4] Shared roles Different regions united in motion (152-159)

FAST FACT = "Muscle memory is the common name for how the neuro-muscular system learns skills." (153)

[5] Motion sickness Damage and disorders (160-167)

Note = Diagram of neurons stimulated by nerve growth factor sending out "neurites" that will become axons and dendrites." (166)

6) STATES OF MIND (168-203)

[1] Daily routines The unconscious & unconscious mind (170-176)

[2] Glossary (177)

[3] Awareness Knowing the world around us (178-185))

[4] Brain at rest Sleeping & dreaming states (186-197)

[5] Altered states Effects & problems (198-203)

7) THE FEELING BRAIN (204-233)

[1] Emotions The complexity of feelings (206-212)

[2] Glossary (213)

[3] Dark emotions Understanding fear, anxiety & anger (214-219)

[4] Good feelings Joy, love & happiness (220-228)

[5] Impacts of loss Sadness, grief, & depression (228-233)

8) LEARNING & MEMORY (234-265)

[1] Learning Acquiring & storing information (236-244)

[2] Glossary (245)

[3] A memory forms Encoding, storing, retrieving (246-257)

[4] Language Uniquely human communications (258-265)

9) THE AGING BRAIN (266-295)

[1] Mature minds Blessings & challenges (268-275,277)

[2] Glossary (276)

[3] Brain changes (278-289)

[4] Living longer (290-295)

EPILOGUE --- Future of the brain (296-317)

[1] New intelligence A world remade (298-302)

[2] Social shifts Changing communications, changing the brain (302-305)

[3] Better brains Improving the mind through science (306-309)

[4] Brain medicine Advances in treatment (310-313)

[5] Next steps A jump into the unknown (314-317)

GLOSSARY (318-325)

INDEX (326-337)


[1] Books (338)

[2] Games (339)

[3] Websites (339)


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AUTHOR NOTES = Michael S. Sweeney is chair of the Journalism Department at Logan State University in Utah. He is the author of several books including National Geographic Complete Survival Manual.

Richard Restak, M.D. is a neuropsychiatrist and clinical professor at George Washington University. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Brain and the host for the acclaimed PBS series The Brain.

SUMMARY = An illustrated guide to the brain's development and functions presents accessible coverage of how the brain works and the latest scientific discoveries, sharing lifestyle tips on how to promote brain health through exercise, nutrition, and specific bolstering activities.

BOOK DESCRIPTION = Did you know that listening to music tunes up your brain? Or that certain foods can help maintain mental fitness? Or that exercise can keep both body and mind in good shape? Delving into the science behind these strategies, the book goes even deeper to reveal the brain's inner workings.

Overseen by distinguished neuropsychiatrist Dr. Richard Restak, the book is both a practical owner's manual and a complete guide to the brain's development and function. Its pages explore not only the brain's physical form its 100 billion nerve cells and near-infinite network of synapses but also its interactions that regulate every thought and action. The book features the latest discoveries about improving and optimizing mental acuity right alongside sidebars on breakthrough moments in neuroscience. Explained here also are the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of the brain, addressed in accessible, engaging language.

Combining the latest advances in our understanding of the mind-body connection and ongoing research into such diseases as dementia, depression, and PTSD. The book is an indispensable guide at every stage of life ["mens sana in corpore sano"].


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Michael Sweeney



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