Elastic: Flexible Thinking In A Time Of Change by Leonard MlodinowElastic: Flexible Thinking In A Time Of Change by Leonard Mlodinow

Elastic: Flexible Thinking In A Time Of Change

byLeonard Mlodinow

Audio Book (CD) | March 20, 2018

Pricing and Purchase Info

$43.09 online 
$47.00 list price save 8%
Earn 215 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Not available in stores


From the best-selling author of Subliminal and The Drunkard's Walk, a groundbreaking new look at the neuroscience of change, and at how tapping into elastic thinking will help us thrive in the modern world.

Drawing on cutting-edge research, Leonard Mlodinow takes us on an illuminating journey through the mechanics of our minds as we navigate the rapidly changing landscapes around us. Out of the exploratory instincts that allowed our ancestors to prosper hundreds of thousands of years ago, humans developed a cognitive style that Mlodinow terms elastic thinking, a unique set of talents that include neophilia (an affinity for novelty), schizotypy (a tendency toward unusual perception), imagination and idea generation, and divergent and integrative thinking. These are the qualities that enabled innovators from Mary Shelley to Miles Davis, from the inventor of jumbo-sized popcorn to the creators of Pokémon Go, to effect paradigm shifts in our culture and society. In our age of unprecedented technological innovation and social change, it is more important than ever to encourage these abilities and traits.
How can we train our brains to be more comfortable when confronting change and more adept at innovation? How do our brains generate new ideas, and how can we nurture that process? Why can diversity and even discord be beneficial to our thought process? With his keen acumen and quick wit, Leonard Mlodinow gives us the essential tools to harness the power of elastic thinking in an endlessly dynamic world.

Includes a Bonus PDF of Exercises
LEONARD MLODINOW’s previous books include the best sellers Subliminal (winner of the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science writing award), The Drunkard’s Walk (a New York Times Notable Book), War of the Worldviews (with Deepak Chopra), and The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking), as well as The Upright Thinkers, Feynman’s Rainbow, and Eucl...
Title:Elastic: Flexible Thinking In A Time Of ChangeFormat:Audio Book (CD)Dimensions:6 × 5.1 × 1.2 inPublished:March 20, 2018Publisher:Penguin Random House Audio Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0147521947

ISBN - 13:9780147521941


Read from the Book

BEGINNINGS    1 This book is about one interest and one idea. I have long been intrigued in human affect—the world of emotions and feelings—and have spent many years investigating it: why and how we emote, feel, use feelings to construct our selves; how feelings assist or undermine our best intentions; why and how brains interact with the body to support such functions. I have new facts and interpretations to share on these matters.  As for the idea, it is very simple: feelings have not been given the credit they deserve as motives, monitors, and negotiators of human cultural endeavors. Humans have distinguished themselves from all other beings by creating a spectacular collection of objects, practices, and ideas, collectively known as cultures. The collection includes the arts, philosophical inquiry, moral systems and religious beliefs, justice, governance, economic institutions, and technology and science. Why and how did this process begin? A frequent answer to this question invokes an important faculty of the human mind—verbal language—along with distinctive features such as intense social­ity and superior intellect. For those who are biologically inclined the answer also includes natural selection operating at the level of genes. I have no doubt that intellect, sociality, and language have played key roles in the process, and it goes without saying that the organisms capable of cultural invention, along with the specific faculties used in the invention, are present in humans by the grace of natural selection and genetic transmission. The idea is that something else was required to jump-start the saga of human cultures. That something else was a motive. I am referring specifically to feelings, from pain and suffering to well-being and pleasure. Consider medicine, one of our most significant cultural enterprises. Medicine’s combination of technology and science began as a response to the pain and suffering caused by diseases of every sort, from physi­cal trauma and infections to cancers, contrasted with the very opposite of pain and suffering: well-being, pleasures, the prospect of thriving. Medicine did not begin as an intellectual sport meant to exercise one’s wits over a diagnostic puzzle or a physiological mystery. It began as a consequence of specific feelings of patients and specific feelings of early physicians, including but not limited to the compassion that may be born of empathy. Those motives remain today. No reader will have failed to notice how visits to the dentist and surgical procedures have changed for the better in our own lifetime. The primary motive behind improvements such as efficient anesthetics and precise instru­mentation is the management of feelings of discomfort. The activity of engineers and scientists plays a commendable role in this endeavor, but it is a motivated role. The profit motive of the drug and instrumen­tation industries also plays a significant part because the public does need to reduce its suffering and industries respond to that need. The pursuit of profit is fueled by varied yearnings, a desire for advance­ment, prestige, even greed, which are none other than feelings. It is not possible to comprehend the intense effort to develop cures for can­cers or Alzheimer’s disease without considering feelings as motives, monitors, and negotiators of the process. Nor is it possible to compre­hend, for example, the less intense effort with which Western cultures have pursued cures for malaria in Africa or the management of drug addictions most everywhere without considering the respective web of motivating and inhibiting feelings. Language, sociality, knowledge, and reason are the primary inventors and executors of these compli­cated processes. But feelings get to motivate them, stay on to check the results, and help negotiate the necessary adjustments. The idea, in essence, is that cultural activity began and remains deeply embedded in feeling. The favorable and unfavorable interplay of feeling and reason must be acknowledged if we are to understand the conflicts and contradictions of the human condition.   2 How did humans come to be at the same time sufferers, mendi­cants, celebrants of joy, philanthropists, artists and scientists, saints and criminals, benevolent masters of the earth and monsters intent on destroying it? The answer to this question requires the contribu­tions of historians and sociologists, for certain, as well as those of art­ists, whose sensibilities often intuit the hidden patterns of the human drama, but the answer also requires the contributions of different branches of biology. As I considered how feelings could not only drive the first flush of cultures but remain integral to their evolution, I searched for a way to connect human life, as we know it today—equipped with minds, feelings, consciousness, memory, language, complex sociality, and cre­ative intelligence—with early life, as early as 3.8 billion years ago. To establish the connection, I needed to suggest an order and a time line for the development and appearance of these critical faculties in the long history of evolution.The actual order of appearance of biological structures and faculties that I uncovered violates traditional expectations and is as strange as the book title implies. In the history of life, events did not comply with the conventional notions that we humans have formed for how to build the beautiful instrument I like to call a cultural mind. Intending to tell a story about the substance and consequences of human feeling, I came to recognize that our ways of thinking about minds and cultures are out of tune with biological reality. When a living organism behaves intelligently and winningly in a social set­ting, we assume that the behavior results from foresight, deliberation, complexity, all with the help of a nervous system. It is now clear, how­ever, that such behaviors could also have sprung from the bare and spare equipment of a single cell, namely, in a bacterium, at the dawn of the biosphere. “Strange” is too mild a word to describe this reality. We can envision an explanation that begins to accommodate the counterintuitive findings. The explanation draws on the mechanisms of life itself and on the conditions of its regulation, a collection of phe­nomena that is generally designated by a single word: homeostasis. Feelings are the mental expressions of homeostasis, while homeo­stasis, acting under the cover of feeling, is the functional thread that links early life-forms to the extraordinary partnership of bodies and nervous systems. That partnership is responsible for the emergence of conscious, feeling minds that are, in turn, responsible for what is most distinctive about humanity: cultures and civilizations. Feelings are at the center of the book, but they draw their powers from homeostasis. Connecting cultures to feeling and homeostasis strengthens their links to nature and deepens the humanization of the cultural process. Feelings and creative cultural minds were assembled by a long process in which genetic selection guided by homeostasis played a prominent role. Connecting cultures to feelings, homeostasis, and genetics coun­ters the growing detachment of cultural ideas, practices, and objects from the process of life. It should be evident that the connections I am establishing do not diminish the autonomy that cultural phenomena acquire historically. I am not reducing cultural phenomena to their biological roots or attempting to have science explain all aspects of the cultural process. The sciences alone cannot illuminate the entirety of human experi­ence without the light that comes from the arts and humanities. Discussions about the making of cultures often agonize over two conflicting accounts: one in which human behavior results from auton­omous cultural phenomena, and another in which human behavior is the consequence of natural selection as conveyed by genes. But there is no need to favor one account over the other. Human behavior largely results from both influences in varying proportions and order. Curiously, discovering the roots of human cultures in nonhuman biology does not diminish the exceptional status of humans at all. The exceptional status of each human being derives from the unique sig­nificance of suffering and flourishing in the context of our remem­brances of the past and of the memories we have constructed of the future we incessantly anticipate.  3  We humans are born storytellers, and we find it very satisfying to tell stories about how things began. We have reasonable success when the thing to be storied is a device or a relationship, love affairs and friend­ships being great themes for stories of origins. We are not so good and we are often wrong when we turn to the natural world. How did life begin? How did minds, feelings, or consciousness begin? When did social behaviors and cultures first appear? There is nothing easy about such an endeavor. When the laureate physicist Erwin Schrödinger turned his attention to biology and wrote his classic book What Is Life?, it should be noted that he did not title it The “Origins” of Life. He recognized a fool’s errand when he saw it. Still, the errand is irresistible. This book is dedicated to presenting some facts behind the making of minds that think, create narratives and meaning, remember the past and imagine the future; and to pre­senting some facts behind the machinery of feeling and consciousness responsible for the reciprocal connections among minds, the outside world, and its respective life. In their need to cope with the human heart in conflict, in their desire to reconcile the contradictions posed by suffering, fear, anger, and the pursuit of well-being, humans turned to wonder and awe and discovered music making, dancing, painting, and literature. They continued their efforts by creating the often beautiful and sometimes frayed epics that go by such names as religious belief, philosophical inquiry, and political governance. From cradle to grave, these were some of the ways in which the cultural mind addressed the human drama.

Editorial Reviews

“Leonard Mlodinow will make you smarter.” —Seth MacFarlane “Ingenious . . . top-quality popular neuroscience.”   —Kirkus Reviews“Incorporating the most recent developments in psychology and neuroscience, award-winning science writer Mlodinow. . . elucidates how the human mind evolved a cognitive style he names ‘elastic thinking.’ . . . Fantastically accessible science writing. . . . Of particular interest to those wishing to understand how to cope with the pace of change in the modern world.”—Library Journal (starred review) “Timely and engrossing. Elastic is a fascinating exploration of one of the most important topics: how the human mind deals with change. If you liked Subliminal, you’ll love Elastic.” —Charles Duhigg, author of the best sellers The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better “It’s easy to describe the dizzying changes in our midst—from the gushers of information that wash over us to a world grown ever more interconnected. Far harder is to offer guidance on how we should respond. In this wise and persuasive book, Leonard Mlodinow calls for a change in the very way we think. Using a deft mix of science and storytelling, he shows the limits of linear thinking and the promise of ‘bottom up’ thinking that embraces ambiguity, asks the shrewd questions, and pursues novel answers to complex problems. Elastic is a book that will help you survive the whirlwind.”—Daniel H. Pink, author of WHEN and A WHOLE NEW MIND"A fascinating, useful look into how the brain works. Perfect for neophiliacs and everyone else who's dealing with a changing world.” —Seth Godin, author of Footprints on the Moon“In a world in which advancing technologies, omnipresent social media, and fiery political landscapes can make us feel helpless and paralyzed, Mlodinow shows us how our most human traits, such as novelty seeking and free-range imagination, have uniquely prepared us to thrive in an increasingly complex and ever-changing world. Most important, in the groundbreaking book he shows us how to make the best use of our most basic human talents to find true happiness and success.” —Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology, Harvard University, and author of the New York Times best seller Super Brain“A book of sparkling intelligence, written with humor and grace. If you read only one book of accessible science this year, let this be the one.” —Mark Williams, author of Mindfulness, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford