An engaging appraisal of intuition, undermined by a cavalier dismissal of religion.




A scientific critique of the rational limitations of intuition. 

Human consciousness, or the capacity for self-identification, provided mankind with a considerable evolutionary advantage. According to research chemist Johnson (Had Enough of God Yet?, 2017, etc.), self-awareness functioned as the basis for collaboration, communication, and ultimately, the formation of communities. However, the same consciousness raised questions that couldn’t be adequately answered about the nature of the material world. In the absence of systematic rational inquiry, writes the author, we filled in blanks with intuition; we conjured poetic narratives that accounted for our place in the world and provided a sense of security and purpose. Intuition is the source of religion, Johnson says, with its postulations of God and the immortal soul. The author argues that although intuition has practical and theoretical value—it allows us to quickly respond to danger and generate scientific hypotheses—it’s generally unreliable as an instrument for understanding the world. In fact, he says, it’s an endless fount of egregious falsehood, responsible for grotesque errors, ranging from racism to belief in the supernatural. Religion, he asserts, is the “junk of intuition,” as well as a source of violent, sectarian conflict, and it often operates contrary to human survival. In this book, Johnson predicts a future in which reason triumphs over intuition, and he offers a comprehensive neurochemical explanation of human consciousness. The author’s study is certainly wide-ranging, discussing the ideas of modern American philosopher Daniel Dennett, ancient Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus, and 19th-century French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, to name a few. He presents his research on intuition rigorously and lucidly, and he intrepidly courts controversy. As a chemist, Johnson’s command of the pertinent scientific material is beyond reproach. However, he doesn’t address the long tradition of philosophical defenses of religion, even by those sympathetic to science; instead, he simply assumes all faiths are imaginative fictions. This intransigent dogmatism expresses itself repeatedly in the peremptory tone of his prose; at one point, for instance, he refers to theology as “absolutely worthless.”

An engaging appraisal of intuition, undermined by a cavalier dismissal of religion.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-5006-1371-6

Page Count: 234

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2018

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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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