BRAIN BUGS by Dean Buonomano


How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives
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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 11th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-393-07602-8
Page count: 290pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2011


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