- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 Reprint edition (Jan. 14 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0547247990
- ISBN-13: 978-0547247991
- Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.4 x 1.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 318 g
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #20,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
How We Decide Paperback – Jan 14 2010
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"Over the past two decades, research in neuroscience and behavioral economics has revolutionized our understanding of human decision making. Jonah Lehrer brings it all together in this insightful and enjoyable book, giving readers the information they need to make the smartest decisions.”—Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error and Looking for Spinoza
“Jonah Lehrer ingeniously weaves neuroscience, sports, war, psychology, and politics into a fascinating tale of human decision making. In the process, he makes us much wiser.”—Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational
“Should we go with instinct or analysis? The answer, Lehrer explains, in this smart and delightfully readable book, is that it depends on the situation. Knowing which method works best in which case is not just useful but fascinating. Lehrer proves once again that he’s a master storyteller and one of the best guides to the practical lessons from new neuroscience.”—Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired and author of The Long Tail
“As Lehrer describes in fluid prose, the brain’s reasoning centers are easily fooled, often making judgments based on nonrational factors like presentation (a sales pitch or packaging)...Lehrer is a delight to read, and this is a fascinating book (some of which appeared recently, in a slightly different form, in the New Yorker) that will help everyone better understand themselves and their decision making.” —Publisher's Weekly, starred review
About the Author
Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. He writes the Head Case column for The Wall Street Journal and regularly appears on WNYC’s Radiolab. His writing has also appeared in Nature, The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American and Outside. He’s the author of two previous books, Proust Was A Neuroscientist and How We Decide. He graduated from Columbia University and attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
But "Blink" left me rather disappointed. It was a book that was about these real-world examples and not much else. It was a fun read, like Gladwell's other books, but it amounted to little more than trivia.
Lehrer's "How We Decide" not only delves into the neuroscience behind the subject matter, but most crucially it leaves its readers with conclusions that they can apply to their own lives - something that was sorely missing in Blink. The structure of the book is solid and deliberate, with the final chapters of the book putting all the pieces together.
Was it as fun to read as "Blink"? I imagine many people would say that it's not. But the insight Lehrer provides is vastly more valuable and resolves many of the frustrations I had with Gladwell's book. Anybody with a background in science, social science, or even math will probably feel the same way. Where Gladwell made reckless assumptions and created many shady links between cause and effect, Lehrer tends to keep the examples more relevant and the logic much more airtight.
If you read books solely for entertainment, you probably don't need to read this if you've already read "Blink." But if you have even the slightest interest in expanding your knowledge and applying this information to improve your decision-making, "How We Decide" is an infinitely better resource.
I mean it wholeheartedly when I say that this book is everything that Blink should have been.
After being blown away by his previous book, Proust Was A Neuroscientist, on the relationship between brain science and art, I snapped up Lehrer's next one. Its purpose is to demonstrate the relationship between brain science and the way we make decisions in our everyday world.
It points out early that the old dichotomy that we all know and our western tradition has believed for the past three millennia is in fact false. That tradition is that the brain is divided between reason and emotion and that from Plato on forward we have been told we have to pay attention to reason because emotion leads us of the rails and has to be cajoled and bullied back into place by reason.
Wrongo. The brain is a prediction machine and conscious and unconscious factors lead people to made decisions, sometimes favouring the speed and experience of intuition and on other occasions mulling over the facts.
In this context, Lehrer uses compelling real life situations to make his points. How Tom Brady passed into the 'future' to win the Superbowl; how the radar tech felt a returning jet blip was wrong and ordered it downed, less than a half mile from a battle ship he was not on - it was a missile; how the mind is averse to loss and that we invest money in the stock market for bad reasons; that superstar basketball players do not get on streaks of success; and so on.
Early on, Lehrer points out that a brain injury patient who has the connection between the subconscious and conscious centre (behind the right eyebrow) severed cannot make decisions because without emotional preferences consciousness has no way of determining which action to take. Then he gets into the dopamine system that makes us feel pleasure, but at the same time tells us when something is wrong (the blip being an enemy missile rather than one of us good guys in a fighter jet) by stimulating long slender spindle cells that go all over the brain so we get the jolt simultaneously. Interestingly enough these 'emotion' sensors are only found in higher primates, and humans have 40 times more than our closest monkey friends, pretty conclusive proof that our emotions are a highly flexible system for real time predictions with a mistake recognition loop for improving our expectations for the life we move into.
Intelligent intuition is the result of deliberate practice. That is the conclusion of one of the best chess, backgammon and poker players in the world, Bill Robertie. If you want to improve, review your mistakes. Lehrer even tells you how to stop spending so much on so many credit cards, based on brain science of the small 'insula' in the brain that recognizes negative feelings - it's far harder to hand across cash than plastic. Got suckered in the 'sub-prime' mortgage debacle? There's a brain region for that, too. And Herman Palmer, a New York debt counselor (part of the every day use of this book) says, '...read only the fine print," on credit card come-ons.
On mulling the facts, in a crisis, Chapter 4: The Uses of Reason has a stellar section in it about two pilots trying to save their DC-10 (no not because of the faulty baggage door that put the company out of business) from crashing, pages 120 - 132. This tells you how the brain works through a problem when terrified, and coming to a counterintuitive conclusion that has never existed before when 500 lives, most importantly your own, is at stake.
Chapter 5: Choking on Thought, is about how when we think over something we know well, that we inhibit our conscious attention and we choke. This is intended to further develop the intuition, subconscious part of decision making. For my tastes, this was a tad repetitive, and perhaps too many scientific studies to make the same point several times. But, interesting stories, nonetheless, for example, it has been conclusively shown that MRI examinations for lower back pain have resulted in more than 50% more 'invasive' incorrect outcomes from doctors because our conscious centre in the right prefrontal area can only handle, get this, seven different factors before its ability to make decisions goes down the tube and we make worse decisions. And you thought the brain worked like a computer. Wrong.
Chapter 6 is about how we make ethical discriminations. Kant, Descartes and lawyers won't be happy to know it doesn't take a lot of rational thought to make moral decisions. It turns out that we are hardwired to do so. We get the feeling, and then the rational mind makes up reasons to explain the feeling. This is because mammals need the warm feeling of mothers and others from the first moment to turn out okay. Our minds innately sympathize with others, empathize, then make altruistic decisions based on, actually, not wanting to see others suffer. We have active emotional reactions from our amygdyla, mirror cells that key in on others expressions so we experience the feeling, then our fusiform area recognizes particular people, and unlike psychopaths who do not feel, an amygdyla problem, or autists who cannot recognize the facial features that mean certain emotions and we want innately are wired to theorize that others are like us. These areas make us imbue others with emotion. It's not about rational thought at all; that comes later in the justification stage. Interestingly, if we are deprived of others our abilities to empathize and take actions to help others go way down, so think about various types of child abuse that change people when they most need those various centres to be turned on, nurtured and grown. Fascinating chapter. Oh, and all you parents who have been deprived of your child or lost a child feel intense pain because of simple hormones that also regulate water level in the body - vasopressin and oxytocin. Such a loss wipes most people out for the rest of their lives.
The collected wisdom of How We Decide comes on pages 244 - 250, but the book is much more fascinating than the summary. And The Coda puts neatly the mesh between the experience (emotion) and reasoning (conscious thought) components of our thoughts. Both have their specialties and both are required all day long every day.
Lehrer takes my vote as the science writer who has best thought through the science - their papers often written with tentative conclusions, in gibberish text and with the need to pass peer judgment, demonstrate repeatable experiments and with an overladen Latin weight - and translated it into incisive, sparkling, accessible, understandable and compelling reading for the human being who is interested in investigating how things work in their heads. And it passes the short attention spam test: the book ends in less than 250 pages. As previously mentioned, I am working on a book: The Brains of Poets (dcreid.ca), and would always like more science and more art. This book will appeal to a broader audience.
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