Talking Heads.

By Shane O'Mara

Printed: 2023

Publisher: The Bodley Head. London

Edition: First edition

Dimensions 16 × 24 × 3 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 16 x 24 x 3

Condition: As new  (See explanation of ratings)

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In the original dustsheet. Black board binding with silver title on the spine.

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‘Enjoyable’ New Scientist

‘A thoughtful book’ Irish Independent

From neurons to nations, Talking Heads is a stunning survey of the science of human connection and communication

We are social animals and talking is part of what makes us human.

But what purpose does conversation serve? In this revelatory tour of talking, neuroscientist Shane O’Mara explores why we communicate, what happens in our brains when we do it, and what it means for us as individuals, groups and societies.

How do our thoughts, memories, and conversations change our brains? What does it mean that we spend most of our thinking lives in a five-minute bubble around the present moment? Why does our sense of self solidify with age, even as we grow more forgetful? In what ways do we imagine futures together? And how do our nations begin as conversations?

Moving from the personal to the social and ultimately towards a radical new perspective on the defining phenomenon of our times, populist nationalism, this is the story of how conversation builds the worlds around us – and how, together, we can talk our way into a better tomorrow.

‘Invaluable … Fascinating’ David Crystal, author of Let’s Talk

Review: This is another serious but easily readable book by O’Mara. Walking the tightrope from scientific findings to the description of and implications for individuals, organisations, and societies is a feat of which few are capable. O’Mara does it without a safety net.

Beginning with one of the best short accounts of one of the most famous cases in neuroscience, the book walks us through how we have conversations with ourselves, with others in small groups, and how these foundations lead to the character of our institutions and their interactions. Every chapter is of consequence:

What is a conversation? What are they really for? How do our internal worlds determine how we construct our views of the past, present, and future? But “construct” isn’t some hand-waving concept in this book – it’s a description of how our biology places limits on what is possible in our behavior.

Every Chapter is rooted in clearly explained scientific findings and the scope is bold – really bold. Chapter 8, for example, “Our Nations Began as Conversations: Countries are Cognitive Constructs” presents a reasoned case for why, if we are serious about making better nations, we can’t ignore our cognitive limitations and the fact that, as the book reminds us, “Our shared realities are constructed by brains.”

It’s a thesis that the usual suspects will deem “reductionist.” But because those suspects wouldn’t know reductionism if it bit them on the arse, they will miss the point that it’s exactly the opposite. It is a masterclass in traversing levels of experience and explanation by serious argument built on an intimate knowledge of the relevant science, and the intellectual chops to take us from neuron to nation without falling off the tightrope.

The author, Shane O’Mara is Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. He is Principal Investigator in, and was director of, the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, one of Europe’s leading research centres for neuroscience, as well as being a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator and a Science Foundation Ireland Principal Investigator. He is the author of Why Torture Doesn’t Work, A Brain for Business and In Praise of Walking.

His musings on neuroscience, psychology and life can be found at the substack Brain Pizza.

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