VISUAL INTELLIGENCE

HOW WE CREATE WHAT WE SEE

A cognitive scientist synthesizes recent findings of vision researchers to unveil some of the secrets and explore still-unsolved puzzles of how we see. Hoffman (Univ. of Calif., Irvine) argues that children are born with innate rules of universal vision just as Noam Chomsky has argued for innate rules of universal grammar. These inborn rules of vision allow children to acquire, through visual experience, rules of visual processing by which the child constructs, in a multiplicity of stages, visual scenes. The first 20 of these rules, as spelled out here, have to do with seeing shapes. Rule 1, for example, is “Always interpret a straight line in an image as a straight line in 3D.” Next are eight rules for color and seven rules for motion. These are illustrated with line drawings and photographs—120 in black-and-white and 30 in color—that draw the reader into participating in his demonstrations. The problem of showing motion is neatly solved by Hoffman: he directs readers to his Web site, where all the motion displays discussed here can be viewed. Like V.S. Ramachandran (Phantoms in the Brain, p. 1096), Hoffman draws on patients with pertinent brain anomalies to explain normal visual intelligence. Also like Ramachandran, he uses phantom limbs to explore briefly the sense of touch, for Hoffman is persuaded that the brain constructs not only what is seen, but also what is felt, heard, smelled, and tasted. He closes with a venture into the world of virtual reality that inspires a series of probing questions into the relationship between what we see relationally (i.e., what we interact with) and what we see phenomenally (i.e., what the visual intelligence constructs). With its many fascinating visual demonstrations, Hoffman’s presentation fully engages the reader, demanding and rewarding attention.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-393-04669-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998

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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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