Though indispensable, true iconoclasts are few and far between. In Iconoclast, neuroscientist Gregory Berns explains why. He explores the constraints the human brain places on innovative thinking, including f
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it was ok
This book was disappointing. There were definitely good elements, but it starts off poorly and — crucially — never quite figured out what it was about.
The first problem regards the title:
1. One who attacks and seeks to overthrow
traditional or popular ideas or institutions.
2. One who destroys sacred religious images.
Neither of those two definitions jibes with how Berns uses the word.
Right there on the cover, the author provides the definition as “A pers
I was already somewhat familiar with several of the exemplars discussed in this book but not with others. They include Solomon Asch, Warren Buffett, Nolan Bushnell, Dale Chihuly, Ray Croc, Walt Disney, David Dreman, Richard Feynman, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul Lauterbur, Jim Lavoi, Stanley Milgram, Florence Nightingale, Branch Rickey, Burt Rutan, and Jonas Salk. According to Berns, these iconoclasts possess a brain that differs from other people’s in three functions (i.
Berns makes an important distinction. “The iconoclast doesn’t literally see things differently than other people. More precisely, he [begin italics] perceives [end italics] things differently. There are several different routes to forcing the brain out of its lazy mode of perception, but the theme linking these methods depends on the element of surprise. The brain must be provided with something that it has never processed before to force it out of predictable perceptions. When Chihuly lost an eye, his brain was forced to reinterpret visual stimuli in a new way.” In this context, I am reminded that only after Sophocles’ Oedipus gouged out his eyes and Shakespeare’s Earl of Gloucester wandered sightless on the moors did these two tragic figures perceive the realities that, previously, their vision had denied or did not see.
This is not an “easy read.” On the contrary, before beginning to compose my review, I re-read the book with special attention to the dozens of passages I had highlighted. To his great credit, and to the extent possible, Berns presents scientific material in layman’s terms for those such as I who have little (if any) prior knowledge about neuroscience and especially about what the brain is, what it does, why people can perceive the same objects so differently, how and why people can respond so differently to fear, and why there are such significant differences between and among people in terms of their social skills. Because iconoclasts perceive the world differently, they have a different context in which to formulate their mindsets and world views, determine preferences, select objectives, and mobilize resources (including collaborators) when pursuing those objectives. Unlike Alcibiades’seamen who seem to be nothing more than drunken vandals, the contemporary iconoclasts of greatest interest to Berns are those who are visionaries, builders, and in some instances revolutionaries. His frequent use of the word “epiphany” is apt. Several of those whom he discusses experienced a “shock of recognition” that revealed both a profound insight and a compelling vision. Disney’s epiphany occurred when images of a static cartoon projected on a movie screen changed his “categorization of drawing from one of static cartoons to that of moving ones – drawings that told stories in a narrative sense.”
“Iconoclast” is that true rarity: a book I start recommending to friends before I have even finished reading it.
Berns uses his background in neuroscience to first show the physiological differences in brain structure between iconoclasts (original thinkers, if you will) and those who tend to “go with the crowd.” Citations include controlled studies, MRI data, etc. Once he demonstrates the differences, he share examples of iconoclastic thought in everything from hamburgers to aerospace.
The main fo