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Bound to have wide popular appeal.

A fascinating look at little-known illusions that greatly affect our daily lives.

Chabris (Psychology/Union Coll.) and Simons (Psychology/Univ. of Illinois) won a 2004 Ig Nobel Prize for their widely reported “gorilla experiment,” which showed that when people focus on one thing, it's easy to overlook other things—even a woman in a gorilla suit. In their debut, they explore this habit of “inattentional blindness” and other common ways in which we distort our perception of reality. Their readable book offers surprising insights into just how clueless we are about how our minds work and how we experience the world. We think we see, know, remember or have the capacity to do something, when we actually do not. Recounting recent research and real-life examples, the authors focus on six illusions that make us overestimate our mental abilities. The illusion of attention allows us to look right at something and not consciously see it, as in the case of a gorilla appearing on court during a basketball game. The illusion of memory makes us believe we recall events precisely, when in fact we may embellish personal recollections of emotional moments like 9/11, and may even unintentionally plagiarize, thinking an idea is our own. Similarly, we hoodwink ourselves into overestimating our abilities (with the least skilled most likely to think better of themselves) and into believing we know more about the world than is justified (such as the time and expense involved in a planned project). The illusion of cause allows us to find the patterns in randomness that account for conspiracy theories and the discovery of religious images in sandwiches. Finally, we think we have enormous untapped mental ability that can be released with simple techniques, such as listening to the music of Mozart (the illusion of potential). The authors suggest that these illusions “might be so persistent and pervasive in our thought patterns precisely because they lead us to think better of ourselves than we objectively should.” Be aware of these habits of mind, they write, and you can avoid being misled.

Bound to have wide popular appeal.

Pub Date: May 18, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-45965-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2010

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

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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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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 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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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