Results tagged “Steven Johnson” from kwc blog

Book: Mind Wide Open


Mind Wide Open is a fun, light read by Steven Johnson. It's a pop-sci examination of the brain, with a focus on translating/rejecting Freudian ideas into a modern scientific framework. This Freud ambition limits the scope of the book: it is tourist equivalent of a quick day tour of New York by bus, a few stops, all brief.

The focus on Freud seems to come from a pop-sci similarity: Freud is one of the few psychologists whose ideas have entered into the popular lexicon and, by reinterpreting Freud's work, Johnson hopes to fulfill his goal of entering neuroscience concepts into the popular lexicon as well. Ambitious, especially in the book's final chapter which reads less like a conclusion and more like a Freud/Neuroscience manifesto (it is one Johnson's favorite chapters that he has written). If you hate Freud, don't distress. I hate Freud as well, but the most of the effort in connecting neuroscience to Freud is spent in the final chapter and only occasionally crops up elsewhere. Perhaps this is why the final chapter felt so out of place to me within the context of the book.

I prefer Emergence, Johnson's book on emergent behavior, to Mind Wide Open. Emergence was more the type of book where you want to grab a friend after reading a chapter and go, "did you know that __?" Perhaps this was an artifact of Johnson using himself as the subject of many of the experiments. Instead of focusing on the extraordinary cases of neuroscience like Oliver Sacks, we instead are confronted with the banal. We learn what Johnson learned about himself, but without being able to subject our self to the same tests the learning feels thirdhand. Much of the experiments have been better suited to a Discovery Channel special than a book, because video at least would better allow us to imagine ourselves in the experiment.

I have some limited notes in the extended. Due to the type of narrative, I found it difficult to take notes: much of the relevant details are scattered across many pages, so I eventually decided it was taking too much time.

Steven Johnson gave a talk at Books Inc. in Mountain View in order to promote his new book, Everything Bad is Good for You. (a shortened version of his Apple Store Talk for those who saw that).

His stated purpose for the talk/book is that is an attempt to talk on conventional wisdom that things have gotten worse, that newer media (TV/video games) appeal to the lowest common denominator. It is a "contrarian but honest argument" that looks, not at the content, but at the cognitive complexity of these media (# of characters, plots, etc...)

I've transcribed my notes into the extended entry. Before the jump you can checked out kottke's review or Gladwell's review (the kottke review includes some links to other resources). Or, you go straight to the source, Steven Johnson's blog, where he's be reviewing the reviewers, posting his schedule, and whatnot.

Finally, you can read Watching TV Makes You Smarter, which Johnson wrote for the New York Times Magazine and pretty much summarizes the arguments in his talk/book.