Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain

Houghton Harcourt. Dec. 2020. 192p. ISBN 9780358157144. $24. SCI
The brain’s primary job is to maintain allostasis by anticipating and fulfilling energy needs in order to survive. This is just one of several scientific concepts Barrett (psychology, Northeastern Univ.; How Emotions are Made) presents in this collection of short and concise essays. Barrett explains how our brains decipher incoming sense data in order to know what action to take and how our brains function in tandem with other organs. Perhaps the most interesting ideas emerge in the last chapter, where Barrett discusses the human brain’s unique ability to construct social reality. Collectively we humans create a social reality that organizes the physical; we develop customs, rules, and civilizations. Barrett suggests that with the ability to create social reality comes a responsibility to construct a more humane world. The appendix includes copious notes that further illuminate the science in each chapter.
VERDICT This is valuable popular science. Barrett deftly explores how the physical workings of the brain influence human nature. The essays don’t prescribe what to think about human nature; rather, they invite readers to think about the kind of human they are or aspire to be.
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