Brave New Brain


By Howard Gardner

Harvard Business School Press -- 196pp -- $24.95

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Editor's Review

Three Stars
Star Rating

The Good A fresh elaboration of the theory of multiple intelligences.

The Bad The author's prose can be dense at times.

The Bottom Line A thoughtful take on the brain power most valued in the years to come.


How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential To Transform Ourselves

By Sharon Begley

Ballantine Books -- 283pp -- $24.95

( below)

Editor's Review

Star Rating

The Good How the brain can remold itself, according to recent scientific discoveries.

The Bad An unorthodox emphasis on meditation and New Age philosophy.

The Bottom Line A somewhat breathless look at scientific breakthroughs.

Fear of the future seems to be increasingly commonplace as more and more of us wonder whether our jobs, our industries, or whatever skills we've developed will survive in a rapidly changing marketplace. Instead of quaking in our cubicles, however, we should be figuring out how to remodel our brains into the organs most likely to be valued in the brave new world.

To help us in this daunting task, famed Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner, who 24 years ago came up with the influential concept of multiple intelligences, has now written Five Minds For The Future. It's a detailed and thoughtful description of the multifaceted brains that are likely to be most valued in the coming decades. "While making no claims to have a crystal ball, I concern myself here with the kinds of minds that people will need if they--if we--are to thrive in the world during the eras to come," writes Gardner.

So how do we develop these minds? Neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to remold itself, may hold the key, according to Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley, former science columnist for The Wall Street Journal and now a writer for Newsweek. Although Begley doesn't tell you how to develop a mind of the future, she does somewhat breathlessly explain why it may be possible. Plus, she throws in the Dalai Lama to give some New Age leavening to the scientific evidence.

Gardner's book is the 21st century iteration of his theory of multiple intelligences, in which he argued that the traditional I.Q. test is far too narrow to encompass the full range of human potential. This time out he combines that original theory with scientific knowledge about the brain, anthropology, history, and morality to come up with the types of minds he says are needed to deal with an interconnected, highly automated future. His five new categories: the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind.

Ideally, his five minds would overlap. Possessing a disciplined mind requires mastery of major schools of thought such as mathematics or history, as well as a professional craft such as law, medicine, or engineering. The synthesizing mind selects information from disparate sources and puts them together in ways that make sense to others. The creating mind goes beyond existing knowledge to pose new questions, offer new solutions, and come up with new ways of thinking. Creators come into their own after at least partial mastery of disciplined and synthesized thinking.

Gardner's last two minds are based on his belief that we must all strive to make the world a better, more equitable place. The respectful mind responds sympathetically and constructively to differences among individuals and groups, while the ethical mind conceptualizes how to strive toward good work and good citizenship.

Gardner's prose can be dense at times, but he gives plenty of real-world examples to illuminate his concepts. He also usefully points out how to identify psuedo-minds. These belong to people who, for example, simply lump together disparate theories or events and claim a connection where none exists, or come up with a seemingly new concept with little or no evidence to back it up.

Begley's book is based on one of the major breakthroughs of the late 20th century: the realization in the 1990s that the human brain is not fixed at adulthood, but can add and rearrange neurons throughout life. She does a good job of detailing the history behind this discovery and how it is changing our approach to learning, neurological diseases, and emotional understanding. Rather than writing a straightforward science book, however, she uses an unorthodox framing device. The book is centered around a 2004 meeting on neuroplasticity at the Mind & Life Institute in Dharamsala, India, founded by the Dalai Lama to integrate science with Buddhist precepts.

This focus ends up giving readers far more than they may want to know about Buddhism, meditation, and His Holiness, the leader of Tibet's government in exile. The book spends way too much time examining meditation's effect on the brain, which is not all that practical given that few people spend as much time meditating as do Tibetan monks.

Both books point to the benefits of trying to reorder our thinking, however. As Winston Churchill said: "The empires of the future will be the empires of the mind."

By Catherine Arnst

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