Medina, John, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

Reviewed by Dr. George F. Simons at

Ongoing research in neuroscience is doubtless revolutionizing our understanding of culture, how we make it and how it makes us. John Medina has furnished us a very readable and enjoyable, even entertaining introduction to our brains, their evolution and their functions. Medina spares us the overdose of technical terminology so often found in discussions of our cognitive system and the mapping of its functions. He gives us the lay of the land and marks the trails, providing an interesting and easy to follow route. This book thus serves as a very useful starting point for the layperson.

Fortunately, too, no hype. Medina is not part of the overly enthusiastic branding and marketing of this knowledge being done by so many self-help purveyors, would be gurus, teachers, trainers and true believers. He expresses a healthy respect for what we do not know and clearly calls our attention to it, which is, in the case of our brains, is an enormous continent of unexplored landscapes and functions. Knowing how our brains can jump to conclusions helps us not to jump to conclusions about our brains.

In addition, Brain Rules has a very practical feel to it. It not only provides up-to-date knowledge of how our brains are wired, but how we can use the fruits of research in practical everyday ways to better understand how we pay attention, perceive things and hold them in our short- and long-term memories. Perhaps most fascinating is the reflection on how we move from sensation to understanding, how the brain integrates the ever-shifting flow of what we see, feel, taste, and smell to appropriate and interact with external reality within ourselves in our own fashion, a challenging insight into what we ultimately explore as culture. There are as well insights into how we keep our cognitive system in good health and good shape by exercise, managing stress and sleep.

Whether educating ourselves or others, Brain Rules is a call to fully exploit the whole person in learning. We should not exclude but also not limit ourselves to words on a page, images and diagrams but exercise the panoply of media, functions and resources that lead to cognitive integrity in experience, feeling and communication. The book is subtitled, 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at work, Home, and School, thus echoing a common definition of culture as that which enables us “to survive and thrive in our various environments.” Culture is thus not an abstraction, but a living functional process embodied within us. We are culture, we live it and it lives in us, and our brains, are our cultural executors.

Pear Press; 2014, ISBN-13: 978-0983263371, ISBN-10: 098326337X

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