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How Our Brains Work: A Reading List for Non-Scientists

Your brain is more complex than you probably realize. Let neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett expand your mind.

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Read when you’ve got time to spare.

If you ask her husband, Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett has just written the first neuroscience beach read. But Dr. Barrett considers her new book, Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain, more of a choose-your-own-adventure, a chance to distill her favorite dinner party stories about the mind—from how our big gray blobs evolved to the myth of the “lizard brain”—into a witty and information-packed page-turner.

“At a time where science is under attack in some political circles, I wanted to show people that it can be useful and interesting. Science may not be a perfect endeavor, but it’s still the best way we have for learning about ourselves and the world.”

That’s part of why she challenged herself to turn her typical scientific writing—“extremely technical, filled with gazillions of references”—into a series of essays that reflect a more conversational approach.

“I’m not telling people what kind of human they should be. I’m trying to get them to think about what kind of human they want to be, and help them to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their own brains. And that shouldn’t require a lot of background knowledge or wading through massive tomes.”

For more non-jargony insights into the way our weird, wonderful brains work, Dr. Barrett shared 10 Pocket-ready links to essays, videos, profiles–plus one delicious chicken pot pie recipe (you’ll see why).

Image by Rekha Garton/Getty Images

Thomas Keller's Chicken Pot Pie

Friends. Food. Family.

LFB: This recipe demonstrates how segregating information and then integrating it at the end produces complexity. If you cook a bunch of vegetables together in a pot, the mixture will have a single, blended flavor. No individual ingredient stands out. But, Keller explains, there’s a better, tastier way to make your dish: cook each vegetable separately and assemble them in the pot at the end. Now every spoonful is a different complex medley of flavors. A brain works sort of in the same way.

Lisa Feldman Barrett

Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, has received numerous scientific awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in neuroscience and an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award. She is a University Distinguished Professor at Northeastern University, with appointments at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.