A New York Times Editors' Choice
A bold new book reveals how we can tap the intelligence that exists beyond our brains—in our bodies, our surroundings, and our relationships
Use your head.
That’s what we tell ourselves when facing a tricky problem or a difficult project. But a growing body of research indicates that we’ve got it exactly backwards. What we need to do, says acclaimed science writer Annie Murphy Paul, is think outside the brain. A host of “extra-neural” resources—the feelings and movements of our bodies, the physical spaces in which we learn and work, and the minds of those around us— can help us focus more intently, comprehend more deeply, and create more imaginatively.
The Extended Mind outlines the research behind this exciting new vision of human ability, exploring the findings of neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, psychologists, and examining the practices of educators, managers, and leaders who are already reaping the benefits of thinking outside the brain. She excavates the untold history of how artists, scientists, and authors—from Jackson Pollock to Jonas Salk to Robert Caro—have used mental extensions to solve problems, make discoveries, and create new works. In the tradition of Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind or Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, The Extended Mind offers a dramatic new view of how our minds work, full of practical advice on how we can all think better.
Science journalist Paul (Brilliant: The New Science of Smart) pushes back against the idea that brains are "a cordoned-off space where cognition happens" in this thoroughly reported look at myriad types of thinking. She posits that bodies, physical spaces, and the minds of other people expand one's ability to decide, analyze, focus, and solve problems. As such, being aware of one's bodily signals (such as an increased heart rate) allows people to make better decisions beyond using solely intelligence, and she offers as an example successful Wall Street traders who hit it big by trusting their gut. As for physical spaces, Paul makes a case that nature allows for better focus, and tells of a medical researcher who found architecture so inspiring that it led to intellectual breakthroughs. And people tend to think better alongside others, Paul explains: physics students, for example, become more nimble problem solvers when they socialize with other physics students. Paul's knack for finding real-world scenarios to illustrate scientific ideas makes this pop and lends much credence to the theory that an isolated mind isn't the sole source of intelligence and creativity. Her fresh approach hits the mark. \n
Every single point is backed by scientific research. Incredible book. I read Deep Work by Cal Newport before this. Both of these books have changed how I learn and interact with the knowledgeable work I perform. The Extended Mind shows you the tools experience has to offer.