Of rarefied interest, to be sure, but with much to say about how the brain works at the interface of thought and language.

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THE VOICES WITHIN

THE HISTORY AND SCIENCE OF HOW WE TALK TO OURSELVES

From Joan of Arc to Brian Wilson, throughout history, people have reported hearing voices in their heads. But where do they come from?

Fernyhough (Psychology/Durham Univ.; Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts, 2013, etc.) examines the phenomenon of “inner voices,” which manifests in two broad components: the more or less ordinary business of talking to oneself and the more fraught existence of voices inside one’s head. “For many reasons,” he writes, “inner speech is the predominant mode in which we communicate with ourselves, just as external speech is our default channel for interacting with others.” The fact that we verbally direct ourselves to act, and that we do so in language rather than some other form of symbol, is of interest in and of itself, the more so because inner speech can interact with the brain in what would seem to be contradictory modes—the brain at rest, in other words, and the brain at work on executive tasks, modes that are more or less binary. “The words in our head can control and direct,” writes the author, “but they can also fashion fantasies and dream of other realities.” These fantasies can be the province of the potentially less healthy voices in our heads, which are another matter entirely. Fernyhough examines the latest science on inner voice/inner speech, some of which has come from his own lab, and he looks at the history of efforts to understand it in psychological and epistemological contexts. The narrative is straightforward and accumulative, though sometimes his best observations are those made almost in passing, as when he notes that private speech “happens more when there is the illusion of the audience”—i.e., when the person talking is sure to find a receptive listener inside the head.

Of rarefied interest, to be sure, but with much to say about how the brain works at the interface of thought and language.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-465-09680-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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