Allen Lane £20.00 and £16.99

Book review: The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku, Mind-wise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel and Want by Nicholas Epley

 

Imagine you are studying for an important exam. You take a pill and, lo, suddenly you have  a photographic memory. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s an innovation that may be with us imminently, according to Michio Kaku in his new book. Kaku, the reknowned scientist and author of seven books exploring the world of physics, has turned his attention to the human brain and the workings of the mind. The result fizzes with his characteristic effervescence.

The memory-improving pill is possibly only a short distance away. Already, fruit flies have been given photographic memories by the insertion of a gene which stimulates the formation of new connections between nerve cells; and mice have had memories of tasks carried out earlier inserted into their brains.

Studies are taking place on using magnetic resonance imaging to approximate the pictures in people’s minds, and electrocorticograms to read thoughts. The videotaping of dreams is in its early stages. Increasing intelligence via gene therapy, drugs or devices may not be far away.  Exoskeletons are being devised to help the paralysed walk by thinking. Within our lifetimes, surrogates may be fashioned to tackle jobs too dangerous for humans, such as space exploration.

Kaku reviews recent advances and hypothesises about the future. Occasionally his theoretical suggestions skim over problems that would arise in practice. For example, he postulates from the animal experiments that it may be possible to insert new skills into the memories of the unemployed, or to bypass the need for study in doctors and lawyers by inserting whole bodies of knowledge into their memories. But many of the animal experiments involve invasive methods which carry risks of damage to surrounding brain structures, infection or bleeding problems, which he mentions in reference to deep brain stimulation, but not here.

Kaku has produced a fascinating book, packed not only with science but with popular cultural references to sci-fi films and TV shows. For all his talk of surrogates and intelligent robots, no manufactured being could have a fraction of his charisma.

Psychologist Nicholas Epley’s Mind-wise provides a guide to understanding the minds of others. His engrossing book outlines the strategies that we use: projecting from our own minds, using stereotypes, and inferring from others’ actions. He explains, via psychological tests, how these methods can fail us. Our own perspective can differ from that of others because we pay attention to different things or because we evaluate things through our own lens of beliefs, attitudes, emotions and knowledge.

Stereotypes, in turn, exaggerate differences and mask similarities between groups. Studies have shown that men and women actually feel emotions comparably (even if they don’t show it in the same way), yet still, books professing that men and women come from different planets continue to flood our bookshops.  Even if stereotypes accurately pinpoint differences, they don’t give us precise contextual reasons for those differences.

Inferring from others’ actions carries its own dangers. Epley uses the example of politicians who assumed those New Orleans residents who didn’t heed the warnings to evacuate prior to Hurricane Katrina were fickle or didn’t believe the risks. In fact, statistics showed they were more likely to lack transport, the money for hotels, or relatives with whom they could stay elsewhere, and had larger families that would be harder to move.

Epley is a lucid and magnetic host, and his book, like Kaku’s, is crammed with evidence-based research. In early chapters he takes the reader through dehumanisation and anthropomorphism, both mistakes people make when trying to read the minds of others. Functional magnetic resonance imaging has enabled scientists to pinpoint the area of the brain responsible for recognising others as having minds of their own. The neurons in this area, the medial pre-frontal cortex, fail to fire when we dehumanise others. In extreme cases, thinking about those we have dehumanised instead lights up brain regions associated with disgust.

Who needs fiction when the hundred billion neurons of the brain are so mesmerising?

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test