The Organized Mind

By Daniel J. Levitin

Daniel J. Levitin, professor of psychology and behavioural neuroscience at McGill University and author of the bestsellers This Is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs, is clearly someone in tune with the intellectual zeitgeist. The spirit of the age seeks to explain modern life by way of the latest findings in brain research, the science of evolution, and information theory. Anyone having problems adjusting to our rapidly-changing social and cultural environment should expect experts like Levitin to have the answers.

The Organized Mind is a science-based self-help manual. Levitin starts with the premise that information has become “the key resource” in our lives, but, due mainly to the digital revolution, we are drowning in a flood of it. Drawing on research in the fields of neuroscience and social psychology he suggests some basic rules for not only keeping your head afloat but on how to thrive in this new environment.

After laying the groundwork by explaining what we know about basic concepts like attention, information, and memory, Levitin moves on to chapters on how to better organize our lives, and includes a test case on how to approach the problem of dealing with the diagnosis of a potentially life-threatening illness. Finally, he concludes with some words on the kinds of values and skills we should be teaching our children.

Most of the analysis is informative and entertaining. Levitin’s fundamental principle is that we have to shift the burden of organization from our brains to the external world through the use of various high- and low-tech devices. Much of what he says is common sense in fancy dress, or old news (for example: we need to get better at understanding statistics and sifting information critically), but that is the nature of many if not all self-help books. Otherwise there is still plenty to be mulled over and enjoyed, like the analysis of the pitfalls of procrastination and the dismantling of the myth of multitasking.

We are all living in an information age. Levitin provides an excellent guide to survive and thrive in this brave new world by getting our mental homes in order.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, August 2014.

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