Excerpt: 'Embracing the Wide Sky'

In chapter 8, I look at the nature of information and its relationship with our minds in the internet age of Wikipedia, twenty-four-hour rolling news broadcasts, and the ubiquity of modern advertising. I explore the role of words in shaping how we perceive and think about something, and how we share knowledge through such means as gossip and urban myths. I also give suggestions on how we can learn to navigate our information-dense world and reduce our risk of information overload.

In chapter 9, I demonstrate and explain the benefits of and methods for thinking mathematically. I show how ordinary intuitions can often lead to wrong conclusions, and how a lack of understanding of probability can result in bad choices. I also analyze complex real-world entities, such as lotteries and voting systems, from a mathematical perspective and show how certain statistical arguments for popular claims do not add up. A final section helps you learn how to use numbers and logic to think more carefully and successfully.

The tenth and concluding chapter looks at the future of the human mind, from the remarkable medical and technological breakthroughs that are transforming the treatment of injured and diseased brains, to the new insights of cognitive researchers that suggest our minds extend far beyond the confines of the head. I also assess the claims of futurists who assert that, inevitably, mind and machine will merge and give rise to a new "cyborg" species. I finish with some personal reflections on what I hope the future will bring for every kind of mind.

A final note: The title of this book was inspired by one of my favorite poems, a meditation on the mind by the celebrated nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson. Every schoolchild should learn these verses:

The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side, The one the other will containWith ease, and you beside.

The brain is deeper than the sea, For, hold them, blue to blue, The one the other will absorb, As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God, For, heft them, pound for pound, And they will differ, if they do, As syllable from sound.

From "Embracing the Wide Sky" by Daniel Tammet. Copyright 2009 by Daniel Tammet. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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