The Brain Book


Within our own heads lies one of the most complex systems in the known universe. Its power and versatility far surpass that of any manmade computer, and, as the late Professor Anokhin of Russia remarked, no human being has ever come anywhere near to using its full potential. There are two principal reasons for this under use. First, most people's brains are to some degree hampered by fatigue and stress. We cannot get as much from a brain that is tired and dull as we can from a fully alert, stress-free nervous system. The growing realization of the need to free ourselves from deep-rooted stresses and negative conditioning is reflected in the continually expanding interest in mediation, relaxation, stress reduction, psychotherapy, Gestalt, bioenergetics, biofeedback, counseling, rolfing, massage, yoga, etc.

Yet freeing ourselves from accumulated tensions is not in itself enough. We also need to know how to use the enormous potential that is thereby being made available to us. Unfortunately no handbook came with the brain and no one told us how to get the most out of it: Instead we have learned to use it very much through "trial and error." Over the last two decades research into the function of the human brain has given us a much clearer idea of how it works. By applying these findings to everyday tasks all of us can begin to benefit from the brain's natural way of functioning and so begin to use our incredible potential that much more fully.

It is toward this second aspect of self-improvement that the present book is directed, and as such is complementary to my earlier book on meditation and the reduction of stress. My own interest in this particular aspect of mental development owes much to Tony Buzan, who has already done considerable work in this area. I first met Tony through one of those synchronistic chains of events in which everything seems to fit into place. (More and more nothing appears to happen by chance.) The day that I finished the final typescript for my book The TM Technique I sat back in an armchair, and decided to switch off for a while, switched on the television—a rare indulgence. On came a program called "The Enchanted Loom," about the brain's vast untapped potential and the many ways in which people were now beginning to use it more fully, particularly through a deeper understanding of the roles of the left and right sides of the brain. I immediately recognized that the approaches being discussed complemented my studies and interest in meditation—they were the relative, or particular, side of mental development, as opposed to the absolute approach of meditation. The two were obviously not in conflict but very complementary; each approach had a lot to offer the other. I resolved somehow to get in touch with the originator, and one of the key figures in the program, Tony Buzan.

Three days later a Mr. Mark Brown visited me with an interest in meditation. During our conversation it came out that he was involved with a certain Mr. Buzan! He duly gave me Tony's telephone number, and being in London a week later I took the opportunity to get in touch. Meanwhile Tony had already heard through Mark of my own work, and on the evening that I telephoned had been discussing with an American colleague, who also wanted to meet with me regarding meditation, how they should get in touch. So when I introduced myself saying "You don't know me but..." I was greeted with "Oh yes, but I do. I was just talking about you. Come on over." We talked into the night and into most of the next week; both of us sharing with each other as much as possible of our respective work and skills.

Since that meeting in 1974 many creative sparks have flown between us and we have worked together on a number of projects, including the writing of this book. One of the aims of the book is to present and supplement the theoretical background used by Buzan to support the practical methods suggested in his book Use Your Head (based on the BBC TV series of the same name, published in America under the title Use Both Sides of Your  Brain), and to relate many findings from experimental psychology to the everyday use of the brain.


The book has been divided into two sections. The first part gives some basic information about the human brain, its development and structure. It is impossible to deal adequately with such a large and expanding field in less than a hundred pages—one could hardly do it justice in a thousand pages. The purpose of this section is to provide a general background to the second part in which specific brain functions and ways of improving them will be discussed. Aspects of brain research not relevant to this had to be omitted.

Any book that selects some avenues of research and ignores others is going to be biased, and this book is no exception. By far the greater part of brain research to date has been hell-bent on trying to measure present levels of ability—to see how well or how badly the brain performs in the suboptimum conditions in which we all live and the grossly suboptimum conditions of the experimental laboratory. Very little research has been directed toward how we can maximize our abilities.

In this book I have argued for a much greater optimism with regard to brain potential. I am more interested in the amazing things the human brain can accomplish and the ways in which we can help it do so than I am in the ways at which we are at present using it. So I have been selective. But the fact that a book can be filled with optimistic news about the brain is for me a source of optimism in itself.

As with many books, you do not necessarily have to start with the first chapter and plod through in sequence. You might like to turn first to the short section that deals with this very point (pp. 202-207), or to the last chapter, which gives an overview of the whole book, or anything else that takes your fancy or seems relevant. Flipping though also gives a good overview of what to expect and helps comprehension when it comes to looking at the book in depth. In the second part of the book much of the advice on using your brain is given at the end of each chapter; you might like to take this in first and come back to the theoretical side later. Whatever your approach, make sure you enjoy the reading. 

The summaries at the end of each chapter are in the form of mind maps. (The development and use of these is explained in chapter 13.) The main points are better organized if one starts with a general concept at the center of the page and branches out using lines, arrows, boxes, and colors to represent the more detailed points and the ways in which they are related to each other. Such maps can take a variety of forms, but they all share the attribute of breaking away from the restrictions imposed by ordinary linear prose.

Going over the map provided will serve as a good review of the chapter and has been shown to improve memory of the material significantly. Even better is to make your own maps. Guidelines on this are given on pages 176-82.

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