My goals in this book are to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information possible, with the caveat that “facts” evolve and continually are being modified by new knowledge, and to present this information in a language and format accessible to a novice reader. The chapters provide answers to questions such as: How did the brain evolve? What is an emotion? What is a hallucination? How do you learn? How does your diet affect how you think and feel? What happens to your brain as you age?
Many authors begin with a discussion of neuroscience with the assumption that the reader needs to know all of the basic brain anatomy and chemistry before proceeding. I have chosen to place this chapter on neuroscience at the end of the book. In addition, I have tried to keep the jargon to a minimum and have included occasional reminders of the meanings of terms within each chapter. Should you wish to know more about some terms, I have included a Glossary at the end of the book. I have written the chapters so that they can be read in any order; I encourage you to begin with the topic that you find most interesting.
René Descartes speculated that the mind exists independent from the brain. Today, almost four centuries after Descartes’s death, we still do not fully understand how your mind emerges from the electrical and chemical processes that p. xiv↵occur in your brain. This book introduces you to the answers that have been obtained thus far. I sincerely hope that reading this book encourages you to learn more about the wonderful organ of the mind that lives in your head. You will discover that our current understanding of the brain is incomplete. You also will discover that there are many interesting and related topics that have not been discussed in this book. My goal has been to present what I believe everyone needs to know about the brain, rather than everything that is known about the brain. In addition, I have chosen to focus upon only a few of the most common neurological diseases or mental illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and depression.
During every stage of the writing, the text benefited immeasurably from the brilliant editorial suggestions of my wife, Jane, who shaped my concept of my audience and how to reach them; she skillfully converted my jargon into intelligible prose and contributed additional concepts and topics that made the book into a more comprehensive discussion of the brain. I learned to trust her judgment and insight more than my own; if there is wisdom in my writing, it has evolved under her guidance. For more than 36 years, I have been blessed to share my life with this wonderfully patient and intelligent woman who has enriched my life in countless ways. This book is dedicated to Jane.
I am deeply indebted to my editor, Joan Bossert, for asking me to submit a book on this topic in the Oxford series on What Everyone Needs To Know®. Since that day, the clarity of her advice and her unswerving encouragement have been invaluable. This book’s core derives from a course of lectures that I have given for the past 35 years to first-year psychology and biology majors. At first, I assumed that I was teaching students about the brain; ultimately, I realized that I was teaching them how to understand themselves.