Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning, by Benjamin K. Bergen

Benjamin Bergen has created a detailed book on the latest insights into how we form meaning in our minds out of words and images. He collects a wide range of detail from linguistics and neuroscience to show how we interpret information as well as how we collect and store it.

It’s an interesting book for anyone interested in language (guilty) and has some applications for those who write or use media. But there’s such a massive collection of scientific minutiae that it tends to cross the typical┬áboundaries of what’s normally considered “popular science” books.

As general topics it┬ácan be interesting to consider whether there’s a difference in the mind of a reader in left-to-write script as opposed to right-to-left (Hebrew, for example) when describing a jogger. Does the direction of script influence how those different readers picture the jogger? (The answer: Maybe, maybe not.) It can also be intriguing to guess along with science about why it may be harder for a test subject to identify something after picturing it in the mind, how we process sentences in different ways when reading or hearing, or how some concepts take longer to perceive because they take a longer route in the brain from one thought center to another.

Interesting, yes, but at times I found myself wishing for the Cliff Notes version as Bergen describes one eye-direction or computer experiment after another. I’d have also been as happy with a general layman’s description in the text with some details in the notes to skip or absorb as wanted. As it stands, the author’s enthusiasm gets a bit lost in the scores of experimental examples he uses for illustration, each going into finer detail into, generally, how grad students do in various studies.

If you have a strong interest in the topic this is the book for you. If you have more of a peripheral interest there are books easier to digest.