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The Organized Mind
Cover of The Organized Mind
The Organized Mind
Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
Borrow Borrow

The information age is drowning us in an unprecedented deluge of data. At the same time, we're expected to make more—and faster—decisions about our lives than ever before. No wonder, then, that the average person reports frequently losing car keys or reading glasses, missing appointments, and feeling worn out by the effort required just to keep up.

But somehow some people become quite accomplished at managing information flow. In The Organized Mind, Daniel J. Levitin, Ph.D., uses the latest brain science to demonstrate how those people excel—and how readers can use these methods to regain a sense of mastery over the way they organize their homes, workplaces, and lives.

With lively, entertaining chapters on everything from the kitchen junk drawer to health care to gambling in Las Vegas, Levitin reveals how new research into the cognitive neuroscience of attention and memory can be applied to daily life. His practical suggestions call for relatively minor changes that require little effort but will have remarkable long-term benefits for mental and physical health, productivity, and creativity.

This Is Your Brain on Music showed us how to better play and appreciate music through an understanding of how the brain works. The Organized Mind shows us how to navigate the churning flow of information in our daily lives with the same neuroscientific perspective.

The information age is drowning us in an unprecedented deluge of data. At the same time, we're expected to make more—and faster—decisions about our lives than ever before. No wonder, then, that the average person reports frequently losing car keys or reading glasses, missing appointments, and feeling worn out by the effort required just to keep up.

But somehow some people become quite accomplished at managing information flow. In The Organized Mind, Daniel J. Levitin, Ph.D., uses the latest brain science to demonstrate how those people excel—and how readers can use these methods to regain a sense of mastery over the way they organize their homes, workplaces, and lives.

With lively, entertaining chapters on everything from the kitchen junk drawer to health care to gambling in Las Vegas, Levitin reveals how new research into the cognitive neuroscience of attention and memory can be applied to daily life. His practical suggestions call for relatively minor changes that require little effort but will have remarkable long-term benefits for mental and physical health, productivity, and creativity.

This Is Your Brain on Music showed us how to better play and appreciate music through an understanding of how the brain works. The Organized Mind shows us how to navigate the churning flow of information in our daily lives with the same neuroscientific perspective.

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    INTRODUCTION

    Information and Conscientious Organization

    We humans have a long history of pursuing neural enhancement—ways to improve the brains that evolution gave us. We train them to become more dependable and efficient allies in helping us to achieve our goals. Law schools, business schools, and medical schools, music conservatories and athletic programs, all strive to harness the latent power of the human brain to deliver ever higher levels of achievement, to provide an edge in a world that is increasingly competitive. Through the sheer force of human ingenuity, we have devised systems to free our brains of clutter, to help us keep track of details that we can't trust ourselves to remember. All of these and other innovations are designed either to improve the brain we have, or to off-load some of its functions to external sources.

    One of the biggest advances in neural enhancement occurred only 5,000 years ago, when humans discovered a game-changing way to increase the capacity of the brain's memory and indexing system. The invention of written language has long been celebrated as a breakthrough, but relatively little has been made of what exactly were the first things humans wrote—simple recipes, sales receipts, and business inventories mostly. It was around 3000 BCE that our ancestors began to trade nomadic lifestyles for urban ones, setting up increasingly large cities and centers of commerce. The increased trade in these cities put a strain on individual merchants' memories and so early writing became an important component of recording business transactions. Poetry, histories, war tactics, and instructions for building complex construction projects came later.

    Prior to the invention of writing, our ancestors had to rely on memory, sketches, or music to encode and preserve important information. Memory is fallible, of course, but not because of storage limitations so much as retrieval limitations. Some neuroscientists believe that nearly every conscious experience is stored somewhere in your brain; the hard part is finding it and pulling it out again. Sometimes the information that comes out is incomplete, distorted, or misleading. Vivid stories that address a very limited and unlikely set of circumstances often pop to mind and overwhelm statistical information based on a large number of observations that would be far more accurate in helping us to make sound decisions about medical treatments, investments, or the trustworthiness of people in our social world. This fondness for stories is just one of many artifacts, side effects of the way our brains work.

    It's helpful to understand that our modes of thinking and decision-making evolved over the tens of thousands of years that humans lived as hunter-gatherers. Our genes haven't fully caught up with the demands of modern civilization, but fortunately human knowledge has—we now better understand how to overcome evolutionary limitations. This is the story of how humans have coped with information and organization from the beginning of civilization. It's also the story of how the most successful members of society—from successful artists, athletes, and warriors, to business executives and highly credentialed professionals—have learned to maximize their creativity, and efficiency, by organizing their lives so that they spend less time on the mundane, and more time on the inspiring, comforting, and rewarding things in life.

    Cognitive psychologists have provided mountains of evidence over the last twenty years that memory is unreliable. And to make matters worse, we show staggering overconfidence in many recollections that are false. It's...

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 23, 2014
    Levitin (This Is Your Brain on Music), professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at McGill University, examines the way our brains have evolved (and not) to meet the challenges of the Information Age. While our brains evolved to take on the daunting challenges of life in the Stone Age, they now have many redundant, maladaptive, and not quite finished features that clash with the huge demands placed on our attention by the modern world. Levitin reviews the way our thinking is distorted by these distractions, beginning with a tour through the neurology of attention; the origin of these distractions, from written language to the smartphone; and the powers of the wandering mind, the state in which humans think the most creatively. He offers advice on how to reorganize attention and make better decisions. Each chapter also takes practical detours through information theory, probability, and other human strategies for coping with contemporary problems. Levitin’s fascinating tour of the mind helps us better understand the ways we process and structure our experiences. Agent: The Wylie Agency.

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Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
Daniel J. Levitin
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