A guide focuses on the factors that influence human thought patterns.
Burton (For Better or Worse, 2017, etc.), a British psychiatrist, borrows the manual’s title from a 1967 R.D. Laing book; the term referred to a breakthrough to higher consciousness. To live up to their “full human potential,” Burton insists that people must avoid common pitfalls in reasoning and recognize where prejudice or false beliefs might be holding them back. He starts by exploring the types of fallacies often found in arguments, illustrating them with quotations from high-profile politicians such as President Donald Trump. A set of 10 questions designed to be comparable to the Thinking Skills Assessment (administered to would-be students of philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford University) is particularly illuminating. Though these seem like straightforward logic problems, even sharp thinkers may struggle to score above 50%. The book’s other topics include intelligence, types of memory, rhetorical techniques, truth versus “fake news,” intuition, wisdom, and more. Cognitive bias and hallucinations are cited as instances of people’s brains tricking them into making poor judgments. The author’s frame of reference is wide, ranging from the ancient Greeks to current events, and he gives plenty of examples. He makes intriguing, if slightly off-topic, observations about what a language’s grammar indicates about it: for instance, French tends to repeat personal pronouns, which Burton suggests might be a sign of egocentrism. “Our language reflects and at the same time shapes our thoughts and, ultimately, our culture,” he asserts. Certain sections seem to have less obvious relevance, such as a discussion of snobbery and a chapter on music, and the overall structure is fairly arbitrary. It feels as if pieces of various, vaguely familiar books—by the likes of Daniel Kahneman and Oliver Sacks—have been recombined. By contrast, the most useful parts offer practical advice: 10 ways to improve the memory (for example, by involving the senses or making mnemonic devices) and seven tips for being open to inspiration (including waking up without an alarm clock and breaking free of routines).
A well-researched and helpful, if slightly jumbled, tour through the brain’s workings.