on September 2, 2010
Not sure what book the previous reviewer read but this book has plenty of empirical evidence, is well-documented and does comment on the value of intuition in several places. It is not a scholarly publication but it doesn't pretend to be. It was written for the masses. All the studies cited can be researched if you feel the need to verify the results. Of greater interest, was the ability of the authors to explain the meaning of those results. The book is well-written and logicially organized. What impressed me the most was the authors' ability to consistently anticipate objections that occurred to me and address them in the next section or paragraph. A lot of thought went into this book and I think it had the intended effect of making me more conscious of what I do not see and better able to acknowledge the phenomenon in others.
There seems to be a general formula for popular psychology books: 1) present an interesting and unbelievable anecdote 2) rationalize the anecdote using both expert opinions and data from scientific experiments that range from the banal to the fascinating. Perhaps I've read too much Malcolm Gladwell and William Poundstone to find The Invisible Gorilla ground-breaking but the book does illuminate false assumptions that are worthy of attention. Authors Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons explain six illusions that have significant impact on human life: attention, that we think we see far more than we actually do; memory, that it changes over time and is much less reliable than we realize; knowledge, that we equate it to familiarity though the two differ significantly; confidence, that we generally believe we're more skilled than we are; causation, that one event directly leads to another especially if the two are chronologically distinct; and potential, that certain mythical processes can unleash latent powers of the brain. What makes this book unique is that it focuses not on societal trends but on the responsibility of the individual. The authors do not dilute their scientific reasoning; rather, they write in a compelling fashion and allow their readers to think complexly. And their conclusion provides an encouraging send off: relying more on fact than on illusion translates into a society with less condescension, less danger and more cooperation.
Note: For those who have not as yet seen the brief video that demonstrates a selective attention test, I suggest that they do so now by visiting [...]
I agree with Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons that just because we vividly experience some aspects of our world, especially those that are the focus of our attention, that does not mean that we process all of the detailed information around us. "In essence, we know how vividly we see some aspects of our world, but we are completely unaware of those aspects of our world that fall outside of that current focus of attention. Our vivid visual experience masks a striking mental blindness - we assume that visually distinctive or unusual objects will draw our attention, but in reality they go completely unnoticed."
Vast amounts of scientific research reveal these redundantly verifiable insights:
1. Because we have limited attention resources, we usually see only what we expect to see; more often than not, we fail to see what we do not expect to see.
2. "Our neurological circuits for vision and attention are built for pedestrian speeds, not for driving speeds."
3. We often have an illusion of memory: "the disconnect between how we think memory works and how it actually works." That is, we tend to remember only what we expect to remember.
4. We often have an illusion of confidence. This causes us to overestimate our abilities, especially in relation to others; also, we tend to assume that people who seem confident are, and those who seem to lack confidence lack it.
5. Many of us have the illusion of knowledge: we believe we have wider and deeper understanding than in fact we do. Therefore, poor decisions are often made because we do not know what we think we know.
6. The illusion of knowledge can also involve others: we assume so-called "experts" know more, understand more, can do more and can do it better, etc. We are reassured by their self-confidence, although it may well be unjustified.
7. The illusion of cause can affect us three ways: we perceive repeating patterns in randomness as predictive of future events; we assume that events that happen together have a causal relationship when in fact the reality is coincidence; and we tend to assume that events that happen earlier cause events that happened (or appear to have happened) later.
8. The "Mozart Effect" is an example of the illusion of potential: Expand the brain's capabilities by listening to Mozart's music. This presupposes that (a) there is undeveloped potential, perhaps as much as 90%, and (b) the music of Mozart (a genius) will achieve the greatest improvement. In fact, "The benefits of [physical] exercise [such as walking at a reasonable clip for 30 minutes or more a few times a week] are deeper than improvements in behavior and cognition."
9. "Illusions result from mistaken judgments about our limitations, and it is these judgments that we must adjust." Hence the importance of knowing the limits of our cognition so that we can redesign the "spaces" in which we function and thereby avoid the consequences of mistaken intuitions.
10. It is impossible to notice everything around us, much less process recognition of it, nor can we "readily dismiss our intuitive (and incorrect) beliefs about what captures our attention." However, as indicated earlier, we can "proactively restructure our lives so that we are less likely to be misled by an illusion."
However entertaining and instructive the film clip may be, this book is by no means an "easy read" and in fact should be re-read at least once if not more. In that event, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons will generously reward the careful reader. I conclude by presuming to offer three suggestions: First, as you begin to read The Invisible Gorilla, be receptive to unexpected insights that require you to change many of your assumptions about how you perceive, process, remember, and think about your visual world. Second, don't assume that Chabris and Simons are "experts" simply because they have written this book and seem confident about what they affirm and what they challenge. Focus on sharpening your awareness and increasing your capacities to absorb and digest what you observe. Finally, once you have increased your understanding, do not fall victim to the illusion of knowledge. Continually challenge each of your assumptions. Your mind is, literally, a work in progress.
'The Invisible Gorilla' begins with a description of the experiment run by the authors where observers were asked to watch a basketball being passed amongst a group of people. Meanwhile a 'gorilla' sneaks into the scene to beat his chest and then leave. Many of the observers failed to see the monkey. This is just one of a number of books published recently that explore the fallibility of the brain. It just doesn't work the way we think it does. Like the invisible gorillas experiment, stuff can happen right in front of our eyes and we may not see it. We may also believe we remember events as they happen but we don't. Even important events that we're sure we remembered correctly, we don't. For this reason, we need to beware of confidence because confidence is not the same as reliability. A doctor who exudes confidence is no more likely to be right in his diagnosis than one who is hesitant. In fact, the authors' caution against the confident doctor because he or she is more liable to make a quick, confident diagnosis that is wrong than the more hesitant, thoughtful or contemplative doctor. Nevertheless, people love confidence. For this reason, groups may be no more right in their decision-making than individuals because members of the group tend to listen to the person who's most confident who is also, very often the most likely to be wrong. The brain also works in a manner that makes us susceptible to illusions. The illusion of cause is defined as our tendency to associate cause and effect as defined by sequence in time. Some parents are no longer inoculating their children for measles because they've mistakenly associated autism with the measles, mumps and rubella shot. The illusion of potential leads us to believe we have vast untapped potential in our brain that the authors claim can only be improved through some form of aerobic exercise and not by listening to classical music, brain exercises advertised by Nintendo or video games. The brain only gets good at certain tasks by practicing those tasks. Knowledge of cause and effect is best discovered through scientific studies with the use of control and experimental groups. Unfortunately, our intuition, that gut feeling, the good old-fashioned common sense championed by Sara Palin in the last presidential election is more often wrong than right. People are not rational, their memories are flawed and they often do not understand cause and effect. Sometimes, we just have to slow down and think things through
The authors take us through a number of illusions that the human brain is susceptible too, and at the end of it you too, can feel as if the things you were sure about are . . . unreliable. The authors target our assumed ability to see what is going on in front of us, our memories, our confidence, our knowledge and a number of other fun things. This is one of those books that hits the sweet spot between entertainment and education - mainly it does this through lots of stories. It also gently dismisses some of Malcolm Gladwell's conclusions, as a side dish. Enjoy!
on December 3, 2011
The material in this book is interesting enough. The authors write in a plain, quick-reading style and cover LOTS of research findings. But while they give many examples to illustrate major cognitive illusions that we all experience, there is virtually no information on what can be done to overcome these mental soft-spots. All they say, repeatedly, is 'being aware of these illusions might help you avoid these traps.' I ended up just skimming the last two chapters - I'm not into pure trivia, I want something with at least SOME utility. Ron