Drawing on her own ground-breaking experiments with the elderly, Harvard psychology professor Langer seeks to dramatize the rigid conditions and mind-sets that often produce a pervasive state of automatized stupidity. She proposes a life-enhancing alternative: mindfulness. Langer poses her question in fiery headline type--how could a highly trained pilot run through a routine control check and flick the switch that he knows will cause his plane to crash? She distills the results of some 15 years of research to examine the causes of such deadly mindlessness. Each cause sounds simple, and deceptively easy to defeat: repetition; a kind of knee-jerk emotional prejudice she labels ""premature cognitive commitment""; a narrow sense of time--and of love and money; the powerful influence of an education system that focuses only on winning; the equally powerful, if invisible, influence of context (we always judge others according to ourselves). Experiments show how overturning just one of these deadening--and potentially deadly--habits can open up a new field of awareness. For example, moribund nursing-home residents literally came back to life when they were given daily choices to make--and their revival challenged the crushing idea (premature cognitive commitment) that the old are incompetent and must be dependent. In another fascinating study, elderly men revived psychologically and physically when they were asked to be the men they were in their 50s. Still, the enigmatic stumbling block to implementing the simple changes such experiments indicate is our institutionalized mindlessness. Langer advocates a vigilant, creative uncertainty as the antidote to the rigid, reactive, repetitive patterns that keep the best of us sealed in unlived lives. Langer gives scientific heft to a fascinating and undervalued phenomenon. A thought-provoking read that deserves a wide general audience.