Intriguing take on behavioral economics, marketing and human foibles.

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BRAIN BUGS

HOW THE BRAIN'S FLAWS SHAPE OUR LIVES

Putting the analogy of the computer to good use, Buonomano (Neurobiology and Psychology/UCLA) makes the case that “our lives are governed by brain bugs” of which we are unaware, although unfortunately there are no “patches, updates or upgrades” to easily remedy the situation.

While digital computers surpass the human brain when it comes to processing information and performing numerical calculations, our brains operate by pattern recognition, which simultaneously accounts for their strengths and their weaknesses. A trivial example is the use of CAPTCHA authentication software, which bars web robots from spamming websites. The author compares the “approximately 90 billion neurons linked by 100 trillion synapses in the human brain” to the “approximately 20 billion Web pages connected by a trillion links.” The key, however, is not the brain's numerical advantage but our ability to extract meaning from the context in which words appear—e.g., the difference between the household pet and the computer mouse. Human learning occurs by association as new synapses are weakened, strengthened or newly formed between neurons that fire simultaneously. This leave us vulnerable to marketers, as was the case when ads showcased celebrities smoking cigarettes. Similarly, the way a question is framed can bias the response, and a lie repeated often enough is fixed in our memory. Buonomano suggests that while we associate cause and effect for things that occur within seconds, over longer periods are judgment becomes weaker. For example, we often fail to save enough for retirement, and the lure of instant gratification makes us vulnerable to manipulation in our purchases and our political choices.

Intriguing take on behavioral economics, marketing and human foibles.

Pub Date: July 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-393-07602-8

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

THE ORDER OF TIME

Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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