MIND Reviews: December 2007/January 2008

Reviews and recommendations from the December 2007/January 2008 issue of Scientific American MIND


The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness
by Jeff Warren. Random House, 2007 ($24.95)

Jeff Warren spent several summers planting trees in northern Ontario, during which he frequently experienced something very odd. He would grab his shovel and start digging at 9 A.M., but when he would raise his head the sun would have moved to the other side of the sky and his watch would show 2 P.M.—and he would have no memory of the past five
hours. The phenomenon got him thinking about awareness, and he embarked on a
quest to find out as much as he could about the different versions of what we call consciousness.

He describes his wild journey in The Head Trip, in which he shows that there is a lot more to consciousness than simply being asleep or being awake. Warren introduces 12
distinct states of consciousness, ranging from well-known phenomena, such as the dreams of REM sleep, to more obscure experiences, such as the trance. He attempts to tie
the different states together by likening them to the wedges on a roulette wheel representing the brain, spinning under the power of our biological clocks, but the metaphor
seems arbitrary and does not add any insight to this otherwise stellar book.

Warren’s hilarious writing makes the nearly 400 jam-packed pages a fun and entertaining
read. He defi nes experiences such as “the Zone,” a state that refl ects the “absolute
integration of body and mind.” Athletes reach the Zone by repeating the same motions
until the brain, like the muscles, “performs fluidly.” Besides this alert and responsive “high,” there is also the “numb end of the Zone” that one can arrive at, for example, through hours of planting trees.

Using dozens of interviews with a wide range of scientists, Warren paints a picture of the current scientific understanding that underlies each state. But the real strength of The Head Trip is that Warren gives firsthand accounts of what it means to experience each variant of consciousness. He went to great lengths to understand how the mind changes throughout the day—by living in an isolated cabin for several weeks with no artifi cial light, for example, he arrived at a sleep pattern that some scientists say is the natural preindustrial rhythm. After going to bed at sundown, he would awaken to “the Watch,” a “pleasant meditative state” sandwiched between two bouts of sleep. The Head Trip opens the reader’s eyes to what it really means to wake, sleep and dream; it is “a trip into our own
wheeling heads.” —Nicole Branan

Wish List: The holiday season has arrived—and what better way to celebrate than with brainy gifts?

Winner of a Mensa Select seal, this party game inspires creative and comic wordplay with
a premise as simple as comparing “Apples to Apples.” Players exercise their Broca’s area as they find new ways to connect words and try to convince one another why, for example, describing a cactus as “intelligent” makes perfect sense.

Give a brain you love an even more targeted workout with Nintendo’s “Brain Age<sup>2<sup>,” a surprisingly fun variation of the several video games, computer programs and Web sites recently unveiled in response to the ever growing body of research showing the importance of regular mental training.

For the serious brain enthusiast, an anatomically correct brain model makes a great toy, educational tool or office decoration. Find models suitable for any age, budget and level of expertise at

This article was originally published with the title "Read, Watch, Listen."

or subscribe to access other articles from the December 2007 publication.
Digital Issue $7.95
Digital Subscription $19.99 Subscribe
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Email this Article