Insightful stuff for readers immersed in the labyrinthine world of neuroscience.



How a collection of identical cells takes in information and generates intelligence.

Entrepreneur and computer engineer Hawkins’ enthusiasm comes through in TED talks and an earlier bestseller (On Intelligence, 2004), and neuroscientists take him seriously—though readers new to the subject may have a more difficult time digesting the complex information. The author focuses on the neocortex. Only mammals have one, but all animals possess a deeper “reptilian” brain designed to ensure survival and reproduction. The neocortex allows humans to “devote our lives to philosophy, mathematics, poetry, astrophysics, music, geology, or the warmth of human love, in defiance of the old brain’s genetic urging” that we should be spending time “fighting rivals and pursuing multiple sexual partners.” Hawkins adds that all thoughts and actions result from activity and the connections among neurons. Every element of intelligence—seeing, touching, language, thought—is fundamentally the same. The author’s intriguing thousand brains theory maintains that identical structures called “reference frames” occur throughout the neocortex. All take in sensory information “to model everything we know, not just physical objects,” and “all knowledge is stored at locations relative to reference frames.” Nothing enters our skull but electrical spikes, so this model is a simulation. It’s usually accurate, but humans perceive lots of nonsense and false beliefs, which have become threats to our long-term survival. Modern life remains a battle between the neocortex (knowledge) and the old brain (competition, survival). Usefully, Hawkins then applies his theory to machine intelligence. Computers store knowledge but lack reference frames and the ability to model: “Nothing we call AI today is intelligent.” Humans are intelligent because we can learn to do practically anything. Computers do one thing, although they do it far better than humans. There is no “deep learning,” only access to immense amounts of data, and future intelligent machines will be more like humans, and “success…could be a machine that has the abilities of a five-year-old child.” Richard Dawkins provides the foreword.

Insightful stuff for readers immersed in the labyrinthine world of neuroscience.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7581-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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 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...


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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