Some of the book seems self-evident, some seems to be mere padding, and little of it moves with the sparkling aha...

THE KNOWLEDGE ILLUSION

WHY WE NEVER THINK ALONE

A tour of the many honeycombs of the hive mind, courtesy of cognitive scientists Sloman (Brown Univ.) and Fernbach (Univ. of Colorado).

You know more than I do, and you know next to nothing yourself. That’s not just a Socratic proposition, but also a finding of recent generations of neuroscientific researchers, who, as Cognition editor Sloman notes, are given to addressing a large question: “How is thinking possible?” One answer is that much of our thinking relies on the thinking of others—and, increasingly, on machine others. As the authors note, flying a plane is a collaboration among pilots, designers, engineers, flight controllers, and automated systems, the collective mastery or even understanding of all of which is beyond the capacity of all but a very few humans. One thought experiment the authors propose is to produce from your mind everything you can say about how zippers work, a sobering exercise that quickly reveals the superficiality of much of what we carry inside our heads. We think we know, and then we don’t. Therein lies a small key to wisdom, and this leads to a larger purpose, which is that traditional assessments of intelligence and performance are off-point: what matters is what the individual mind contributes to the collectivity. If that sounds vaguely collectivist, so be it. All the same, the authors maintain, “intelligence is no longer a person’s ability to reason and solve problems; it’s how much the person contributes to a group’s reasoning and problem-solving process.” This contribution, they add, may not just lie in creativity, but also in doing the grunt work necessary to move a project along. After all, even with better, more effectively distributed thinking, “ignorance is inevitable.”

Some of the book seems self-evident, some seems to be mere padding, and little of it moves with the sparkling aha intelligence of Daniel Dennett. Still, it’s sturdy enough, with interesting insights, especially for team building.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-18435-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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