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This title in other editions

An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain


An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Does the mind reflect or dictate what the body sees and feels? What is the language of emotion? Is memory a function of our imaginations? Are we all just out of our minds?

In this ambitious and enlightening work, Diane Ackerman combines an artist's eye with a scientist's erudition to illuminate the magic and mysteries of the human brain. With An Alchemy of Mind, she offers an unprecedented exploration of the mental fantasia in which we spend our days. In addition to explaining memory, thought, emotion, dreams, and language acquisition, Ackerman reports on the latest discoveries in neuroscience and addresses such controversial subjects as the effects of trauma, nature versus nurture, and male versus female brains. In prose that is not simply accessible but also beautiful and electric, Ackerman distills the hard, objective truths of science in order to yield vivid, anecdotal explanations about a range of existential questions regarding consciousness and the nature of identity.


From the bestselling author of "A Natural History of the Senses" "comes a playful, rewarding jaunt through the brain's chemical realities and emotional intangibles" ("Kirkus Reviews").

About the Author

Diane Ackerman is a naturalist and poet and the author of ten books of literary nonfiction, including A Natural History of the Senses, A Natural History of Love, and Cultivating Delight. Also the author of six volumes of poetry and several nonfiction children's books, she contributes to The New York Times, Discover, National Geographic, Parade, and many other publications. Ackerman lives in Ithaca, New York.

Table of Contents


Miracle Waters


Chapter 1. The Enchanted Loom

Imagining the brain.

Chapter 2. This Island Earth

Evolution; the world's tiniest reptile; our brain and other animals'.

Chapter 3. Why We Ask "Why?"

What happens in the right brain vs. the left brain; why we're driven to tell stories.

Chapter 4. The Fibs of Being

Consciousness; some definitions and theories.

Chapter 5. Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines

The unconscious; how it collaborates with the conscious mind.

Sweet Dreams of Reason

(The Physical Brain)

Chapter 6. The Shape of Thought

Neurons, dendrites, axons; how all the parts speak to each other.

Chapter 7. Inner Space

Synapses, the plasticity of the brain; how we influence brain development; medication and the brain.

Chapter 8. Attention Please

How we unconsciously choose what to pay attention to; multitasking; absentmindedness.

Chapter 9. A Passion for Patterns

How our brain quests for meaning in what it senses.

Chapter 10. In the Church of the Pines

The spiritual brain.

Chapter 11. Einstein's Brain

What happened to it? Was it different?

Chapter 12. The Mind's Eye

The brain's ability to imagine/see things that aren't in view at the time.

Pavilions of Desire


Chapter 13. What Is a Memory?

The importance of memory to who we are; how memories are formed; how they're influenced.

Chapter 14. Reflections in a Gazing Ball

How memories are recalled; association of pain and memory; unconscious memory.

Chapter 15. Remember What?

What happens when we learn; words on the tip of the tongue; Alzheimer's and the aging brain; IQ; short-term vs. long-term memory; how memories affect the present.

Chapter 16. Remember, I Dream

The role of dreams in memory.

Chapter 17. "Hello," He Lied

True and false memories; subliminally influencing thought and memory.

Chapter 18. Traumatic Memories

How they're stored and recalled; connections between emotions and memory.

Chapter 19. Smell, Memory, and the Erotic

Proust; perfume; love.

Never a Dull Torment

(The Self, and Other Fictions)

Chapter 20. Introducing the Self

How we think of ourself; the multiple facets of a self.

Chapter 21. The Other Self

Body and mind; immune system and brain; brain damage and loss of self.

Chapter 22. Personality

Nature vs. nurture; genetics and experience; development as babies.

Chapter 23. "Shall It Be Male or Female? Say the Cells"

Male and female brains; if they work differently; how they're shaped; how traits get passed on.

Chapter 24. Creating Minds

Artistic minds, mathematical minds — inherited, cultivated; how they differ; synesthesia.

The World Is Breaking Someone Else's Heart


Chapter 25. The Emotional Climate

Anger, stress, adrenaline, how they affect and are relieved by the brain; our brain isn't made for the modern world; fear, painful thoughts.

Chapter 26. The Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness as hereditary and achieved; the difference in the brain between natural and forced laughter; optimistic and pessimistic brains.

The Color of Saying


Chapter 27. Memory's Accomplice

Language acquisition, use, and nonverbal thinking.

Chapter 28. Metaphors Be with You

How words organize experience.

Chapter 29. The Color of Saying

The origin of words; how we reveal ourselves through words; the brain finding relations among things.

Chapter 30. Shakespeare on the Brain

How Shakespeare's brain was different.

The Wilderness Within

(The World We Share)

Chapter 31. Oasis

Evolution of life; how our brain came to be.

Chapter 32. Conscience and Consciousness

Are we the only conscious animals? Some theories about consciousness.

Chapter 33. A Kingdom of Neighbors

Animal minds.

Chapter 34. The Beautiful Captive

Imaging the brain; brain research; celebration of the uniquely human brain.

Alchemical Symbols

Notes, Addenda, and Afterthoughts

Selected Bibliography



Product Details

Ackerman, Diane
Scribner Book Company
General science
Life Sciences - Human Anatomy & Physiology
Health and Medicine-Anatomy and Physiology
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
September 2005
Grade Level:
8.44 x 5.5 in 10.465 oz

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Related Subjects

Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » Anatomy and Physiology
Health and Self-Help » Psychology » Cognitive Science
Health and Self-Help » Psychology » Mind and Consciousness
Health and Self-Help » Psychology » Personality Types and Testing
Science and Mathematics » Biology » Neurobiology
Science and Mathematics » Nature Studies » Featured Titles

An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain Used Trade Paper
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Product details 320 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9780743246743 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , From the bestselling author of "A Natural History of the Senses" "comes a playful, rewarding jaunt through the brain's chemical realities and emotional intangibles" ("Kirkus Reviews").
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