What goes on in my head

posted in: Robert Winston | 9

What Goes On in My Head? by Robert Winston is a tremendously entertaining children’s book about neuroscience and psychology and is the final book shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize.

Read this book and you’ll find answers to questions such as “Are brains actually necessary?”, “Why do we rub sore bits of our body better?”, “What is more dangerous – sleep deprivation or food deprivation?” and “Is it always better to concentrate when you’ve got to make an important decision?”.

Mike, the headless chicken
You’ll also learn about the chicken called Mike who lived for 18 months after having his head amputated, why it’s better to star gaze using your peripheral vision and why smells can powerfully evoke past memories.

If that’s not enough, whilst reading this book it will seem like you have your own magician in the room; What Goes On in My Head? is packed with activities that explore different aspects of brain behaviour and many of them had us gasping with amazement or trying them again because the illusion or effect was so powerful. For example you can learn how to see inside your own eyes, how to make someone’s arm spontaneously levitate (the myth of telekinesis is debunked, by the way), and why it’s so difficult to draw even a simple image when you look in a mirror.

What Goes On in My Head? is a fascinating, exciting read, packed with curious facts. And as you’d expect with a Dorling Kindersley book, it’s a lovingly produced physical object, rich in images.

If I were to find fault with this beautifully produced book it would the use of Robert Winston as the “celebrity” author. Yes, he’s a household name (at least here in the UK), but he’s not a neuroscientist nor a psychologist (human fertility is is area of expertise). It seems a shame that if you’re going to use a scientist presumably with the idea of giving weight to the content of a book, why not use a scientist who is an expert in the field. Of course the book was written in consultation with a neuroscientist, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, and this leaves me wondering what Robert Winston actually wrote for the book. Additionally, Robert Winston was used as a figure head to promote the sale of a health supplement, the adverts for which were subsequently banned for breaching the ASA guidelines on “substantiation and truthfulness”, so for me personally, the use of his name to add “credibility” to this book backfires a little.

Click to see original large scale image from What goes on in my Head on DK website

A couple of unfortunate comments about Freud and mental illness aside (eg “A touch of mental illness can be a good thing” p.85), and celebrity author notwithstanding, What Goes On in My Head? is hugely enjoyable, fascinating and inspiring book, not only perfect for the curious but also ideal for hooking those kids who may need a little encouragement to see how amazing science can be.

Having had some fairly epic book-inspired play in the last few days we opted for something really simple to do to complement our reading of What Goes On in My Head? – we had a quiet afternoon playing a memory game. The girls and I took it in turns to place 20 objects on a tray. Whoever hadn’t chosen the objects then had 1 minute to look at the objects before they were covered. Once hidden from view, the memorizer had one minute to write down as many items as they could remember. The winner of each round didn’t go home with all the items they remembered, but did get a bourbon biscuit!

Songs we listened to whilst playing our memory game included:

  • Everything’s controlled by the Brain by Doc Dauer (off his album all about anatomy!)

  • If I Only Had a Brain sung Judy Garland & Ray Bolger, from the Wizard of Oz (here’s the clip on YouTube)
  • Neurons in G (With Apologies to Bach) by Dan & Yael

  • Other activities which would be fun to try having read What Goes On in My Head? include:

  • Learning some of these neuroscience songs for kids, from a site devoted to Neuroscience for kids at the University of Washington.
  • Making some memory games, like this mini one from dandee, this one from Creative Chicks, this one from Mus or this one from Scrumdilly-Do.
  • Playing with optical illusions. Artists Helping Children have lots of suggestions here. You could also try this pipecleaner suggestion from Zoom, or this animated optical illusion from Instructables. Michael Bach has an excellent webpage devoted to optical illusions.

  • So now I’ve reviewed all six books on the shortlist for the for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2011, an award that celebrates the best recent books that communicate science to young people. The winner will be announced tomorrow.

    Which book do you think should win? The one I’ve reviewed today, What Mr Darwin Saw?, How the World Works, The Icky Sticky Snot and Blood Book, The Story of Astronomy and Space, or What’s the Point of Being Green? And which book do you think I would like to see win?

    Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review, however, reflect my own and honest opinion.

    9 Responses

    1. se7en

      I’ve so enjoyed your fab posts this week – definitely on a roll!!! And you make such a good point here!!! Why does a good book need an endorsement, especially from someone who is not even “in the field.” I guess because he is more of a brand… they are using his TV character rather than his expertise – really they could have any star up there to help market their book. Excellent point!!!

    2. Zoe

      Thanks Se7en, I’ve had so much fun reviewing the shortlisted books and our whole family have learned lots of amazing things. It’s been a treat! I know Robert Winston has written other books for DK, and I believe one of his official roles here is meant to be engaging the public with science, so I guess that’s partly why he was chosen

    3. choxbox

      We have this book, and yes it is awesome.

      Which to choose of the lot?- tough Q!

      Re Robert Winston – I guess same reason as why Carol Volderman endorses math books and Richard Hammond for some other titles under DK science books?!

    4. Zoe

      Hi Choxbox, yes, very tough to pick just one. I’m glad the decision isn’t up to me. Can’t wait to find out who’s won – this time tomorrow night!

    5. Tiffany overby-Story

      Thank you again, for your dedication and hard work at providing strangers like me with great new books and literature options.

    6. Stacey

      So interesting- this whole celebrity author thing. I have to admit, it often makes my skin crawl! And as intereting as the book sounds, not sure I can get past ‘the touch of mental illness thing.’ Get that it’s said tongue in cheek but still…

      My vote (and I’m guessing yours!) goes to What’s the Point of Being Green!

    7. Zoe

      Hi Tiffany, it’s a funny thing blogging. I don’t know who stops by to read what I write, and even if I know people’s names I probably haven’t met them, and perhaps don’t even live on the same continent as them, and yet, calling you strangers doesn’t seem right!

      Your comment has really made me think about who I write for.

    8. Zoe

      Hi Stacey,

      The comment about mental illness was made in the context of noting that some historical figures who were very creative (artists, musicians) are believed to have had conditions that today would give them a mental illness diagnosis, so yes, I imagine it was tongue in cheek, but still, it didn’t have to be said, and I don’t think it should have been said – it suggests a rather derisory. jokey attitude to people who have mental health problems.

      And as to my favourite book… I had hope to write another post about my choice and how I came to it, but I realise I haven’t the time so….. you’re right in a way, the book I’d most like to see given to people to read is What’s the Point of being Green, but the book I think was the best book in terms of production and content is How the World Works. All the books are so different and “right” for different occasions, different people etc it’s difficult to choose just one. I’m really curious to see which book is actually chosen this evening!

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