Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently by Gregory Berns Download (read online) free eBook .pdf.epub.kindle

Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently

No organization can survive without iconoclasts — innovators who single-handedly upturn conventional wisdom and manage to achieve what so many others deem impossible.

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

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 fear of failure, the urge to conform, and the tendency to interpret sensory information in familiar ways.

Through vivid accounts of successful innovators ranging from glass artist Dale Chihuly to physicist Richard Feynman to country/rock trio the Dixie Chicks, Berns reveals the inner workings of the iconoclast’s mind with remarkable clarity. Each engaging chapter goes on to describe practical actions we can each take to understand and unleash our own potential to think differently — such as seeking out new environments, novel experiences, and first-time acquaintances.

Packed with engaging stories, science-based insights, potent practices, and examples from a startling array of disciplines, this engaging book will help you understand how iconoclasts think and equip you to begin thinking more like an iconoclast yourself.

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    Richard

    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:

    i·con·o·clast (ī-kŏn’ə-klăst’)
    n.
       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

    The first problem regards the title:

    i·con·o·clast (ī-kŏn’ə-klăst’)
    n.
       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 person who does something that others say can’t be done.” Somewhat related to the first ‘official’ definition, yes, but a bit of a stretch; the sense there is closer to a political or philosophical extremist than to an innovative genius. Certainly the original coinage depicting the Byzantine emperor Leo III wasn’t about innovation so much as reactionary religio-politics. But Berns doesn’t even stick to his stated usage, either. In the opening chapters he catalogs a number of very successful folks — and at least one “failure” — and collects them all under the “iconoclast” umbrella. His steadfast desire to focus on the thread of similarity and ignore the manifold differences is quite disconcerting. When I was doing the academic thing many years ago, one of the lessons I learned is that if people aren’t careful to use words consistently then discussions and debates can be so ambiguous that they become useless. I vaguely recall that someone once tallied the different ways economists use the word “capital” and it was in the dozens. The overuse isn’t quite so extreme here, but it is quite blatant and leaves an attentive reader suspicious and incredulous.

    Early on, Berns emphatically states that special skills in visualization — the ability to see what others don’t perceive — is the sine qua non of iconoclasm. Or is he conflating this with imagination? Because he also asserts that “imagination comes from the visual system.” Only to then provide many examples of the imaginative component of iconoclasm that have nothing to do with visual perception. For example, Ray Kroc, the kind-of founder of McDonald’s — nothing visual about his innovation.

    The dictionary definition uses the word “overthrows”, and the idea of someone that explores new territory is an important part of what the book covers — for instance, on page 170, he describes someone as “a pioneer (i.e., an iconoclast)”. But at other times the meaning shifts towards “genius”.

    Oddly, this might be a nice companion book with Malcolm Gladwell’s
    Outliers
    , although Gladwell doesn’t need the companionship they way Berns does. Both deal with exceptionalism. Gladwell makes a very strong case that outliers are that way due to extremes of upbringing and culture; Berns is trying to convince us that these people are neurologically distinct as well: they actually think differently in fundamental and measurable ways. Are these ways teachable? The book’s subtitle implies they are, but the book never really explores self-improvement.

    Except, oddly, in the surprising and interesting appendix: “The Iconoclast’s Pharmacopoeia”. Here, Berns examines a number of drugs and how they affect the brain and the neurochemical pathways involved in perception and innovation. This reminded me of the excellent
    Buzzed
    : both provided detailed information about drugs without preaching, and both force an honest thinker towards the conclusion that drug policy is absurdly paternalistic and misguided.

    Berns is at his best when he drifts away from his iconoclasm hobbyhorse. Late in the book he discusses the results of clinical research exploring how social conditions can actually change basic perception, and it is quite compelling. One research area explained involves how the brain strives for efficiency; if our peers have reached a consensus that something is “A”, then it is more efficient for our brain to tell us the same than for it to permit us to waste time and energy thinking that it might be “B”. The result is that what people actually perceive can change. If all of your friends agree how delicious that wine is before you taste it… well, your brain might be wired so it actually does taste better. This kind of research into how perceptions may be subject to non-perceptual cognitive influences has fascinating implications, from how advertising works to the reliability of court testimony. I would have been happier reading a whole book about those kind of discoveries, without all the poorly thought-out stuff on what makes an innovator, er, genius, er… pioneer, er, … iconoclast.



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    Robert

    Dec 02, 2008

    rated it
    it was amazing

     · 
    review of another edition


    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.”

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    Sharon

    Nov 28, 2008

    rated it
    it was amazing

     · 
    review of another edition

    “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

    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 focus, though, is how to train your brain away from the fear-based mentality that prevents you from exercising your full potential in everything from public speaking to science. The applications for this technique are broad, in everything from education to business.

    As one who has never been afraid to speak my mind, I could not understand those who went along “with the gang” even when they disagreed. Thanks to Berns’ book, I have a far greater understanding.
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