Although other primates and many other animals have working memory, the human brain gives our species a unique ability to reason, remember, and build models of the future. Our brain—specifically, the prefrontal cortex—defines our prevailing spirit, distinctive character, talent, aptitude, and inclination. Our genius.
In The Genius Engine, Kathleen Stein investigates the wonders of our prefrontal cortex, or PFC. Drawing on her decades of experience as a science and technology editor and writer, she deftly explains how the PFC gives us the special flexibility to update information from moment to moment and to make long-range plans; how it controls our artistic and athletic intelligence; and how it determines our moral compass. She delves into the mundane and often taken-for-granted capacities of the PFC—such as multitasking, humor, and empathy—and probes the social problems caused by a dysfunctional PFC.
Examining how the PFC orchestrates our entire mental universe, The Genius Engine shows why some individuals are hardwired to be dark and brooding and why little laughs are evolution's way of encouraging us to do some light cognitive calisthenics. It also explores how we can expand the PFC's capacities, demonstrating how the preschool television show Blue's Clues helps children develop their memory and how bilingualism enhances a child's working memory and control processes.
Stein reveals the extensive reconfiguration of the PFC during puberty, and why this turmoil within the PFC informs how teens judge others. This adolescent brain remodeling explains why teenagers tend to find life so unfair: they're unable to read social situations efficiently during a period when peer acceptance is the epicenter of their lives. Stein also provides examples of the long-term consequences of PFC injuries. Babies with certain PFC injuries tend to grow up friendless and emotionless. In adults, injury can cause a variety of deficits, including difficulties distinguishing whether a voice is cheerful or morose. Once the damage is done to the prefrontal tissue, no other part of the brain can assume its functions.
Taking us to the forefront of neuroscience, The Genius Engine provides a mesmerizing look into the area of our brain that defines what it means to be human—the part that gives us not only our agile intelligence but also our emotions, morality, and rules of social conduct.