Vain, immoral, bigoted: this is your brain in action, according to Fine, a research associate at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Australian National University. Fine documents a wealth of surprising information about the brain in this readable account that adopts a good-humored tone about the brain's failings without underestimating the damage they do. The brain, she shows, distorts reality in order to save us from the ego-destroying effects of failure and pessimism. For example, an optimist who fails at something edits the truth by blaming others for the failure and then takes complete credit for any successes. The brain also routinely disapproves of other people's behavior (how could he do that?), while at the same time interpreting one's own actions in the best possible light (I would never do that!). The brain also projects stereotypes onto others that reflect prejudicial beliefs rather than objective reality. Despite the firm hold these distortions have on our brains, Fine is not a pessimist. The path to overcoming stereotypes and other distortions of the brain, she says, may be gained through self-awareness and knowledge provided by experimental psychology, a field that explores and exposes unconscious mental influences. (July)
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Positive self-esteem, whether about one's morality, rationality, altruism, emotional maturity, or tolerance, takes a drubbing in this book. It's an unsettlingly entertaining tour of experimental psychology, which diabolically puts normality to the test. One result ripped empathy to shreds: in a 1963 obedience experiment learned by psychology students, Stanley Milgram showed how to turn anyone into a torturer. Built around discussions of particular experiments, Fine's account illustrates the clinical with personal anecdotes featuring her two-year-old boy. The kid's adamant sense of right and wrong, emotional volatility, and meanness represent every person's "terrible toddler within." Fine describes negative human traits and perceptively reflects on the brain's subconscious thoughts, which can produce pernicious habits such as blaming victims. In various ways, Fine writes, the brain is protecting the self from threats to its self--exaltation, defending against the capriciousness of the world (hence the sense of justice) or disbelief (hence traits of stubbornness and irrationality). An edifying exploration, wryly and ruefully expressed. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.