21 Short Walks Around the Human Brain

David Schoonmaker in American Scientist:

BookMany successful authors answer questions we long ago articulated and have wished we could answer. Michael Corballis goes at least a step further: He poses questions we wouldn’t have thought to ask and then answers them with clarity and wit. And what could be more fascinating to a human being than the human brain?

A Very Short Tour of the Mind exemplifies truth in advertising—it is very short, both in overall length and in the duration of each chapter, the longest of which barely makes it to the sixth page. Yet the book is packed with surprises. Did you know, for example, that left-handedness is generally considered by psychologists to be a lack of handedness? Or that the ratio of neocortex (the home of higher-order functions) to overall brain volume in primates is related to social-group size? Corballis ranges widely within and beyond his subject. He muses about bipedalism and why it may have been adaptive; explores why and how we are so skilled at recognizing faces; and closes with a chapter called “Lies and Bullshit,” in which he wonders why we are so very intolerant of the former but readily accepting of the latter. With his usual self-effacement, he ends with an admission about his own career as psychologist, educator and communicator that may bear on the question.

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