Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts And Deceives Paperback – May 27 2008
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"'Fine sets out to demonstrate that the human brain is vainglorious and stubborn. She succeeds brilliantly.' Mail on Sunday 'In breezy demotic, Fine offers an entertaining tour of current thinking' Telegraph 'This is one of the most interesting and amusing accounts of how we think we think - I think.' Alexander McCall Smith 'A fascinating, funny, disconcerting and lucid book... by the end you'll realise that your brain can (and does) run rings around you.' Helen Dunmore 'Consistently well-written and meticulously researched' Alain de Botton The Sunday Times 'Fine, a cognitive neuroscientist with a sharp sense of humour and an intelligent sense of reality, slaps an Asbo on the hundred billion grey cells that - literally - have shifty, ruthless, self-serving minds of their own.' The Times 'Clear, accessible writing makes her a science writer to watch' Metro 'Fine wears her learning lightly, blending facts with humorous observations. The result is a fascinating insight into how our minds work.' Psychologies 'A witty survey of psychology experiments demonstrating the depths of our suggestibility, the irrationality of our reasoning and the limits of free will.' Focus" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Cordelia Fine, the author of A Mind of Its Own and Delusions of Gender, is a research associate at the Centre for Agency, Values and Ethics at Macquarie University and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Psychology. She lives in Victoria, Australia.
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Fine presents information through a series of analogies of research studies to her personal life, which may leave the reader, as it left me, disinterested. While informative, the style of writing and tone of the book edges of gossipy in nature, and does not represent the seriousness or complexity of the material it describes. The tone of the book therefore becomes too casual and distracting at times; this weighed heavily into my rating of this book. When Fine sticks to describing research studies, her tone may be helpful to those not versed in the field. Complex research studies are boiled down to their essence, describing only the important set up scenarios and final outcomes. Then, Fine curtly states what this means. This honestly, is likely good for most readers as many difficult subjects are explained sensibly and understandably. For those wishing a deeper understanding, namely WHY, not just "this happens as shown in this study", this book falls short.
The book is broken down into 8 chapters, each similar in structure. Fine begins each chapter with a story relatable to the few housewives of the audience who might be reading this book; something about her kid, her husband, or her unborn kid, or some combination of the three. From there, Fine shows us how these everyday actions are the result of our brains. The tone ranges from informal to methodic and back to informal when Fine culminates each chapter with another maternal comment about her family. This is truly my only complaint with the book. The information presented in the rest of the book reads extremely easily, almost like a good research journal summary article. Most of the studies are relatable and easily understood.
Fine provides a large amount of research studies on which she bases her conclusions (there are 20 pages worth of citations at the end of the book). These studies are used to explain 8 aspects of the distorting brain: vanity, emotions, immorality, delusions, steadfastness, guile, unconscious deception, and bigotry. However, many of Fine's best examples and arguments arise in the first section of this book with a simple scenario: everyone assumes were are the best driver on the road, despite the speeding tickets, bumps, dents, dings, scratches, and crashes that prove otherwise. This is our brain at work, Fine says, manipulating what we think as to protect ourselves. Coupled with our ego is our memory, and fine credits many studies that show the positive events are more accurately stored in memory than negative events. Thus, our brains get an extra ego boost each time something good happens yet we shun off (most) negative events. Fine notes that this goes against the obvious (and as we learn in later chapters, it is our brains that conclude what is obvious), and despite the strong evidence for it, our brains our steadfast in conviction against the obvious answer. It knows what's right, and its not budging.
Also discussed are how subliminal messages affect our brain, which I found to be one of the most interesting sections. Fine notes experiments that show how culture affects which words come to mind when shown strings of letters. For example, the word POLI_E is completed as POLICE is America but as POLITE is Japan. The author suggests that our brains have been shaped by the environment and are now responding in ways to relate with others in the environment. Fine also noted another interesting subconscious experiment that showed participants responded they were thirsty when subconsciously shown pictures of coke cans flashed between frames of The Simpsons.
In all, this book was very bipolar to me. At times, it was extremely engaging and interesting. I enjoyed the studies presented and the detail shown. On the other hand, there were times I could not stand to read anymore of Fine's casual writing style. I found any paragraph mentioning the words "my infant son" or "my husband" extremely dreary, which unfortunately was easily three pages of every chapter. However, if you wish to gain an introductory level understanding of basic neuroscience concepts presented in a nonchalant, casual manner, Fine's A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives is an excellent book. However, if you wish a deeper understanding, I would suggest another book.
While most of the information has been presented in other earlier works, Dr. Fine does a splendid job of making our motives and behaviors much more transparent than many of them do--though my all time favorite is still Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, Third Edition.
I found some of the more sobering information a little depressing. While the author makes her discussion of these areas, many of them dealing with racism and sexism, upbeat, I can't help but feel that changing anything in a positive way will be a very up-hill proposition. The most hopeful of her observations is that while we may continue to be both unconscious racists or sexists, at least by arming ourselves with this knowledge, we can start to make changes in our behavior and in our society; fore warned is fore armed, as it's said.
This probably is a very good starting point for anyone interested in the topic of mind and how it works. The author does not give a great amount of neurological or biochemical information on the underpinnings of the nervous system, as "Zebras" does, nor does she go extensively into the neuropathology that has given science so many insights into the workings of the human mind, as do Sachs, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales, or Domaso The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, so it shouldn't be a "scary" read for the uninitiated. It therefore makes a perfect book for "getting aquainted" with the subject and provides a fine set of end notes with bibliographic entries for further reading.
This is a readable and interesting book about the way our brains access and interpret information. The chapters are titled "The Vain Brain", "The Emotional Brain", "The Deluded Brain", "The Pigheaded Brain", and "The Bigoted Brain".
The author gives lots of examples and explains the results of experiments to show how our brains work. In effect, our brains work the way they do to protect us, keep us healthy, make us more efficient and make us fully human. For example, in "The Emotional Brain", the author talks about how we often depersonalise a situation which is very traumatic; that is, we take the emotion out of it so we can survive the event. This is fine if we do it now and then. However, there are people who have a psychiatric condition called depersonalisation disorder who are always in the depersonalised state, and for them it is as though they are not alive at all.
It is not a heavy book to read and there are plenty of funny anecdotes and passages. Still, there is a lot of information and new insights into how we tick.
There is an abundance of footnotes and an index, which is a great idea because you will probably want to read and re-read the book (there is a lot to take in).
The author, Cordelia Fine, has studied Experimental Psychology, has an M.Phil in Criminology and a Ph.D in Psychology. She is currently a Research Fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne.
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