Saturday, December 17, 2011

100 Books 77 - David McRaney's YOU ARE NOT SO SMART

I've picked up a few popular neuroscience "your wacky brain" books this year -- Kluge, Why Everyone Else is a Hypocrite, etc -- and they've all been pretty interesting, but only one of them had me racing along, relatively unable to put it down*, and that was You are Not So Smart.

I've been a fan of author David McRaney's blog of the same name almost from the beginning, so I wasn't expecting to see a lot of new material here. I was pleasantly surprised on that score, though: while a lot of the same ground is covered, it is covered more elegantly, phrased and explained better for the layman. If the blog is a mid-level IT support guide, this book is an end-user's manual, full of well-chosen examples and analogies covering all of the classics that are somewhat old hat to a pop neuroscience freak like me but are still things it's good to be reminded of. And re-reminded. And re-re-reminded.

When it comes to this stuff - the sunk cost fallacy, confimation bias, etc. -- we're fighting a mostly losing battle to overcome it. Our first job is, of course, to notice it -- but that's something our brains, great energy hogs that have evolved to use the energy they hog as efficiently (meaning lazily) as possible, resist noticing these errors entirely without fairly strenuous conscious effort. I think in the end that only exposure, over and over again, to these sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes ungraspable, sometimes embarrassing but always fascinating truths can help us.

What I've really been looking for as I've sifted through the pop neuro section is precisely what You are Not So Smart is: a handy dandy pocket guide to the way my brain might betimes be failing me, and what I can do about it.

It lives on my Kindle. I shall consult it often. Perhaps even between chapters of other books I'm reading (see asterisk note below).

*I say relatively unable because, well, if you haven't noticed, I'm one of those monkey-minded maniacs who is reading sometimes as many as a dozen books at a time. I used to think it was bad enough when it was just three or four, back when lugging around dead tree was my sole option, but the Kindle revealed to me the true depths of my depravity. But hey, it's not like I don't finish them, eventually.

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