Best Psychology and Neurology books

Neurology and psychology are two sides of the same coin – at least for ordinary people. Both deal with that tricky topic: consciousness. Psychology starts with the experience and behavior of people like you and me. Neurology starts with the physical aspect of that: what happens in our brain, our nerves, our senses.

Neurology in laymens terms

Neurology is a medical specialty dealing with disorders of the nervous system.

Examples of such disorders include autism, headaches, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, sleep disorders, cerebral palsy, infection of the brain or the central nervous system, Gilles de la Tourette syndrome etc.

What all these syndromes and illnesses have in common is that they affect or are caused by problems in the nervous system: whether it’s the brain itself, the nerves in the spinal cord or the nerve systems elsewhere in the body. Any disease that affects the brain specifically (whether it is cancer or epilepsy) will be treated by a neurologist as well.

Books by Oliver Sacks

For me the ultimate author about neurology is Oliver Sacks. I’ve read a few of the books he’s written for lay people. He makes the subject come alive by telling the stories of individual people with weird syndromes. Each of the case studies is told with compassion and in detail – the subject really comes alive.

Unlike some modern psychologists, he doesn’t try to make the subject matter fit the theory. He starts with the every-day experiences of people, and works his way up from there. You may find that people with neurological conditions are not really that different from you!

Awakenings

A movie was made after this book – and it’s a great movie. But the book is fascinating in it’s own right. Sacks finds himself in a mental hospital where people who contracted the sleeping sickness of 1918 are held. He gives them a medication that wakes them up after years of coma. The results are staggering and mind blowing (really). Reading this book (like all the books by Oliver Sacks) will give you a new appreciation of the wonders of the working brain – because you have an inkling of all that can go wrong.

The Rosetta Stone of the Human Mind – Three languages to integrate neurobiology and psychology

There is also a (very expensive) Kindle Edition

Integrating neurology, psychology, math (!) and physics to understand the human mind better. In other words: integrating the various sciences that have something to say about the brain, the mind and consciousness.

Science

Aside from consciousness, neurology and psychology have in common that they are sciences. That is: people working in these fields try to systematically find out, preferably through tests and statistics, how human beings work.

This means that the things we take for granted are always going to be questioned. Questions, not answers are the scientists stock in trade. Though of course, ultimately the use of science is the surprising (and hopefully useful) answers they come up with.

One of the issues with any science of consciousness is that the ultimate scientific buzzword ‘objectivity’ is a bit hard. How can one say something objective about the ultimate subjective: our consciousness?

Psychology

Psychology is an academic and applied discipline involving the scientific study of mental functions and behavior. In other words: psychologists study perception, cognition, emotion, personality, behavior, and interpersonal relationships. What we see, feel, hear and think. Our habits and tendencies and how we deal with each other. This includes what works versus what doesn’t in personal relationships.

Psychology also refers to the application of this knowledge to various spheres of human activity, including issues related to everyday life (e.g. family, education, and employment) and the treatment of mental health problems. Psychologists attempt to understand how perception, thinking, emotion and personality impact individual and social behavior. But it is also concerned with the underlying physiological and neurological processes.

Psychology is best known for producing the ‘shrink’ (or psychotherapist): a person who (in stereotype) listens to the problems people have and gives advice or exercises to help people solve their personal and social problems.

Brené Brown – the power of vulnerability and imperfection

She’s a researcher, but her TED talk made her world famous. It was personal and yet founded on years of research into human connections and the human condition.

READ: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Perfectionism is one of those qualities that seem productive – and in some people it actually IS productive – but can lead to serious problems. That is because it is fear-based. And it’s not based on a realistic inventory of present-day threats, it’s based on old fears that are triggered by today’s challenges.

What I’ve learned letting go of perfectionism is that people can relate to me much more when I’m honest about what isn’t working. That doesn’t mean wallowing in it, but showing up for what I’m good at while not ignoring where I let things slide a bit.

A guy reviewer shared that he dares flirt with pretty women more and has no more shame about dancing badly in a bar, just having fun.

And READ: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

While the perfectionism book is all about trying not to be vulnerable (which doesn’t work), this book is about embracing vulnerability. Really the same topic, but from another angle.

Both are the kind of books about which people in their thirties and forties think: If I’d only read that when I was in college!

Dr. Phil books: practical psychology

Real Life: Preparing for the 7 Most Challenging Days of Your Life
Goes into the life challenges most of us go through:

  • Loss
  • Fear
  • Adaptability Breakdown
  • Physical Health
  • Mental Health
  • Addiction
  • Existential Crisis

More recommendations

I just finished reading “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor . It is an amazing book. I highly recommend it if you have not read it. You sure have some great books listed here.

See also: Consciousness: an Introduction, by Susan Blackmore

Perhaps Dr. Phil is all the introduction into psychology any of us needs, but if you do want to know more. Psychology for Dummies is a great place to start.

Reader response

I love Oliver Sacks’ work. Loved Awakenings! I’m not a great fan of the way modern psychology approaches understanding what people are about. you are right, they are trained to be scientists. the problem is, it is my understanding they are trained toward looking only at the objective. My husband teaches at Rutgers U, highly rated psych dept in the U.S. By FAR most of the faculty there doesn’t believe the unconscious exists. It can’t be proven by their science. It boggles my mind every time I hear that from him – psychologists who don’t believe in the unconscious? It’s unscientific. Thus, they are producing shrinks who are behaviorists. No depth analysts are being produced and that’s where the real work is done.

My husband is an outlier, but his classes are filled to the max – 1,000 students a semester. No matter what they name his class, he teaches the same thing: Love, Mysticism and Psychotherapy. His students love him; colleagues shun him.

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