Book Review: The Secret Life of the Mind

How Your Brain Thinks, Feels, and Decides

by Mariano SigmanLittle, Brown and Company
reviewed by Jennifer Haupt

We all know that the brain is a complex and in some ways mysterious communications center that stores and uses information to influence how we learn, feel, and interact with others. How might better understanding the inner workings of the brain help us to make better decisions, communicate more deeply, and live longer, more productive lives? This is the fascinating question at the crux of The Secret Life of the Mind: How Your Brain Thinks, Feels, and Decides, by Mariano Sigman, PhD, founder of the Integrative Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Buenos Aires and a director of the Human Brain Project.

Sigman, a physicist by training, has been studying the cognitive neuroscience of learning and decision making for more than 20 years. He is fascinated by how the brain interacts with the subconscious: where neuroscience meets psychology. As he says, “neuroscience is another tool in humanity’s ancestral search to express—sometimes rudimentarily—the shades, colors, and nuances of what we feel and what we think in order to be comprehensible to others and, of course, to ourselves.”

This book is a fascinating look not just at the geography of the brain and its various regions, but at humanity. Sigman uses research and his own observations to engage readers in topics as diverse as the cost and benefits of optimism, how solving moral dilemmas shapes our identity, and the chemistry and culture of confidence.

What differentiates The Secret Life of the Mind is Sigman’s informal yet authoritative voice and his girth of knowledge. He draws on a wide array of disciplines—biology, physics, and mathematics; psychology, anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, and medicine; as well as gastronomy, magic, music, chess, literature, and art—to better understand the forces that shape who we are.

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