Fodder strictly for the if-you-want-to-believe-it-it’s-true crowd.

THE SENSE OF BEING STARED AT

AND OTHER ASPECTS OF THE EXTENDED MIND

Indefatigable seventh-sense investigator Sheldrake mines his earlier works on prescient and telepathic abilities to update followers on his latest data and theories.

Never had a sense of being stared at? According to Sheldrake (Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, 1999, etc.), this puts you in a minority—along with those who shrug off déjà vu experiences as coincidence, can recall many times when they thought of a long-lost friend who didn’t telephone soon after, or do not find Fido waiting patiently at the door when arriving at an odd hour. This is not to say that there aren’t seemingly paranormal events worth studying. Some animals do display disturbed behavior before earthquakes; herd/homing/flight formation and migratory behaviors of many species are impressive; social insects do seem to act as one body. However, science can explain at least some of these behaviors by detailing the exquisite sensory mechanisms of various species, including an awareness of magnetic fields, and acute olfactory, vibratory, or infrared sensibility, and probably more to be discovered. One does not have to resort, as Sheldrake does, to “morphic fields” that stretch out from one body to co-mingle with another (especially among people who are emotionally close) or invoke a new (actually old) theory of vision that recognizes the role of light entering the eye but goes on to assert that the eye then projects outward to create the visual world as we see it, a notion that affords the eye power to exert malignant influences (as in the “evil eye”). As always, there are reports galore of positive responses to questionnaires on what people believe, countless controlled experiments where the probability of the positive result occurring by chance is one in a zillion, and the favorite caveat is that if, for example, a staring experiment didn’t bear fruit it was because the starer was not very good.

Fodder strictly for the if-you-want-to-believe-it-it’s-true crowd.

Pub Date: March 11, 2003

ISBN: 0-609-60807-X

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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Hiccups aside, a mostly valuable compendium of irrational thinking, with a handful of blanket corrective maneuvers.

THE ART OF THINKING CLEARLY

A waggish, cautionary compilation of pitfalls associated with systematic cognitive errors, from novelist Dobelli.

To be human is to err, routinely and with bias. We exercise deviation from logic, writes the author, as much as, and possibly more than, we display optimal reasoning. In an effort to bring awareness to this sorry state of affairs, he has gathered here—in three-page, anecdotally saturated squibs—nearly 100 examples of muddied thinking. Many will ring familiar to readers (Dobelli’s illustrations are not startlingly original, but observant)—e.g., herd instinct and groupthink, hindsight, overconfidence, the lack of an intuitive grasp of probability or statistical reality. Others, if not new, are smartly encapsulated: social loafing, the hourly rate trap, decision fatigue, carrying on with a lost cause (the sunk-cost fallacy). Most of his points stick home: the deformation of professional thinking, of which Mark Twain said, “If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will be nails”; multitasking is the illusion of attention with potentially dire results if you are eating a sloppy sandwich while driving on a busy street. In his quest for clarity, Dobelli mostly brings shrewdness, skepticism and wariness to bear, but he can also be opaque—e.g., shaping the details of history “into a consistent story...we speak about ‘understanding,’ but these things cannot be understood in the traditional sense. We simply build the meaning into them afterward.” Well, yes. And if we are to be wary of stories, what are we to make of his many telling anecdotes when he counsels, “Anecdotes are a particularly tricky sort of cherry picking....To rebuff an anecdote is difficult because it is a mini-story, and we know how vulnerable our brains are to those”?

Hiccups aside, a mostly valuable compendium of irrational thinking, with a handful of blanket corrective maneuvers.

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-221968-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

HALLUCINATIONS

Acclaimed British neurologist Sacks (Neurology and Psychiatry/Columbia Univ.; The Mind’s Eye, 2010, etc.) delves into the many different sorts of hallucinations that can be generated by the human mind.

The author assembles a wide range of case studies in hallucinations—seeing, hearing or otherwise perceiving things that aren’t there—and the varying brain quirks and disorders that cause them in patients who are otherwise mentally healthy. In each case, he presents a fascinating condition and then expounds on the neurological causes at work, drawing from his own work as a neurologist, as well as other case studies, letters from patients and even historical records and literature. For example, he tells the story of an elderly blind woman who “saw” strange people and animals in her room, caused by Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a condition in with the parts of the brain responsible for vision draw on memories instead of visual perceptions. In another chapter, Sacks recalls his own experimentation with drugs, describing his auditory hallucinations. He believed he heard his neighbors drop by for breakfast, and he cooked for them, “put their ham and eggs on a tray, walked into the living room—and found it completely empty.” He also tells of hallucinations in people who have undergone prolonged sensory deprivation and in those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, migraines, epilepsy and narcolepsy, among other conditions. Although this collection of disorders feels somewhat formulaic, it’s a formula that has served Sacks well in several previous books (especially his 1985 bestseller The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), and it’s still effective—largely because Sacks never turns exploitative, instead sketching out each illness with compassion and thoughtful prose.

A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95724-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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