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Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior
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189 of 204 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon April 29, 2012
Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow

"Subliminal" is the provocative and fascinating look at the unconscious part of our minds. One of my favorite authors and physicists, Leonard Mlodinow, takes the readers on a journey into the science of the unconscious. What a fun and enlightening book this was. Mlodinow is the master of making the difficult accessible and fun for the masses. How are mind works is one of the most interesting subjects and I was thrilled to see that the coauthor of both the Grand Design and the equally interesting book War of the Worldviews makes his latest venture into this intriguing science. This excellent 272-page book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. The New Unconscious, 2. Senses Plus Mind Equals Reality, 3. Remembering and Forgetting, 4. The Importance of Being Social, 5. Reading People, 6. Judging People by Their Covers, 7. Sorting People and Things, 8. In-Groups and Out-Groups, 9. Feelings, and 10. Self.

Positives:
1. A fascinating topic (science of the unconscious) in the hands of a master.
2. Elegant, conversational tone that makes this book a treat to read.
3. Mlodinow consistently produces great books and this one lived up to my expectations.
4. As accessible a book as you will find. A difficult topic made easy and fun to read.
5. The book is loaded with great and I mean great examples to help the reader grasp the latest in the science. One of the books strengths.
6. Great use of science history.
7. The pioneers of the science of the unconscious.
8. Great use the latest scientific research in this fascinating topic to support well-stated positions.
9. You will end up with a better grasp at how our brains work.
10. A good use of illustrations.
11. Great quotes and factoids abound, "The truth is that our unconscious minds are active, purposeful, and independent."
12. Evolution...why our brains evolved to be what they are.
13. A truly exceptional study that mirrors the subjects' sexual preferences.
14. What modern neuroscience tells us about our brains and how we perceive the world.
15. How our memory system works. Who does it change over time? Find out.
16. Social interactions and the subliminal. Theory of mind. The three regions of the brain and the three basic types of nonverbal communication.
17. An interesting look at stereotyping.
18. Popular misconceptions analyzed.
19. What do we know about our feelings our emotions? Find out.
20. The ways to the truth...our worldviews.
21. How our brain creates unconscious biases.
22. Is unrealistic optimism good for you?
23. Great links.

Negatives:
1. Notes are great but a formal bibliography never hurts.
2. Nothing about supernatural beliefs and why they are so prevalent.
3. Having to get multiple copies to share.

In summary, I loved this book. It was an intellectual treat. The science of the unconscious is a fascinating topic and this book was loaded with a lot of great research. Mlodinow is a great author who is able to tackle complex topics and make it fun and interesting to read. If you want to learn about the science of the unconscious, make a conscious decision to get this one, I highly recommend it!!

Further suggestions: "The Grand Design" and "War of the Worldviews: Science Vs. Spirituality" coauthored by this same author were excellent, "Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time" and "The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths" by Michael Shermer, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" by Steven Pinker, Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality" by Laurence Tancredi, "Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain" Michael S. Gazzaniga, "The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life" by Jesse Bering, "50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True" by Guy P. Harrison, "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts" by Carol Tavris. For the record, I have reviewed all the aforementioned books, enjoy.
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62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2012
We often imagine that every decision we make has a rational basis, that everything we do is for a "good reason." What we never consider is that each choice, each experience actually has an unknown framework that underlies it. So,"why" we think we made a decision may not explain the choice at all.

Mlodinow looks at our decisions from the perspective of the new field of social neuroscience, and finds what Freud and Jung theorized about almost a hundred years ago: that beneath every action and experience that is apparently rational, a set of unconscious processes actually dominates the decision-making process.

But these process are far from the "blood, lust and rage" of the Freudian unconscious, or the universal Platonic conceptions of Jung. Instead, these are adaptive mechanisms that protect us and help us to find a way through the rigors and dangers of life.

For research into these mechanisms, Instead of the "psychologist's couch" approach to self -understanding taken by classical psychoanalysis, Mlodinow champions an empirically verifiable line of research that is far from the "psychiatrist's couch" of classical psychoanalysis. Namely, social neuroscience, with the fMRI as the key experimental tool. This is a device that allows scientists to see exactly what processes are occurring in the brain during any given activity or experience.

In an experiment that gives breathtaking evidence of the possibilities presented by social neuroscience, a computer was able to select an image that closely matched one being viewed by an experimental subject, from over six million possible choices, on the basis of analyzing fMRI data alone.

By applying these insights to behavior and experiences in general, Mlodinow shows how we can now identify the unconscious neurological processes that underlie every field of human activity. Mlodinow explains how the unconscious serves not to protect us from, as Freud would have it, a patricidal impulses, but rather to provide a course of action and interpretation of reality that is geared towards survival in the particular environment that formed us. They are a set of neurological routines that have allowed us to survive in whatever strange set of circumstances life has thrown us into.

Additionally, there is no shortage of well-placed humor in this book. For example, when discussing the tendency for humans to anthropomorphize non-human beings, he discusses the tendency for a microscopic roundworm to select one food over another. In passing, he reminds us that a roundworm is not saying to itself, "I'd better watch my diameter." Such light touches infuse the book, but never obscure the fascinating science (as he brilliantly did in Drunkard's Walk).

By explaining our everyday decisions not as choices we make for rational reasons, but as the fruits of unconscious processes, Mlodinow is not - as some may criticize him for - sending psychology back a hundred years. Instead, he is showing how we are extraordinarily adaptive creatures, able to survive and thrive in a wide variety of environments. And in the course of our adaptation, we the marks of our environments - at every level of consciousness.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
In recent years there have been a number of books written on the topic of the influence of our non-conscious (or subconscious or unconscious) minds upon our behavior. This one is really well done and a fairly easy read. The book is broken into two parts. The first part is "The Two-Tiered Brain" and discusses the importance of the non-conscious part of our brain. The second part is "The Social Unconscious" and is primarily concerned with how our subliminal thoughts affect our social selves.

This is a good book and an enjoyable read. It will be extremely informative and surprising to those new to the subject and still has lessons for those of us who are not so new to the topic.

This book has Amazon's "Search Inside" feature and I strongly recommend you use it to become more familiar with its content. Easily recommended.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2012
I bought the Kindle version.

This is a wonderful book for those concerned with the function and potential of the mind. The author is a famous and respected theoretical physicist. He apparently has a lot of free time and intense interest that he has parlayed into doctoral-level knowledge of how the mind functions. You will find a great amount of surprising information here. One example is the phenomenon of "blind-sight," which he discusses thoroughly.

The title is a bit deceiving. It is not about manipulating people through advertising. Rather it is about the importance of the unconscious mind in everything we do and perceive. The word "unconscious" with its Freudian connotations is inaccurate. Perhaps "nonconscious" is better. The author shows that the nonconscious mind accounts for more of our ideas, perceptions, and actions than we normally believe.

The author pulls out all the stops in surveying what we know, from the early history of Psychology to the newest functional MRI studies. It is a wonderfully organized and extensive survey.Yet, this is no dull treatise. The author has a great sense of organization, a lucid writing style, and an ability to relate sophisticated concepts to everyday experience. Moreover, he is very witty. It is virtually impossible to read this book without laughing out loud here and there.

As a lawyer I have to say that I think every judge and jury in the country should be required to read this book. It would be as worthwhile for teachers, legislators and many others.

Despite its "non-academic" style, this book supplies copious notes and extensive bibliography. On balance, this is a great addition to any thoughtful person's library.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Mlodnow is an engaging writer and this is a great book for people who don't read books like this. That's because the problem with "Subliminal" is that it's all been done before. For the most part the psychology is not new and the ideas are not new.

You may remember the story about the horse "Clever Hans" who could do arithmetic...well, the horse could do arithmetic with more than a little help from his owner, Wilhelm von Osten. That was in 1904 and reading it here in Mlodinow's book makes it three times I have read it.

Then there's the case of Jennifer Thompson who was raped and twice identified the wrong man in court. Mlodinow presents the story in some detail but not nearly as much detail as was presented on PBS's "Frontline" in 1997.

This wouldn't be so bad but then there comes the case of John Dean from the Watergate burglary and cover-up during the Nixon administration. Dean was known to have a fabulous memory and so when he testified before congress and gave exacting details about his conversations with Nixon his words were taken as an accurate recounting. However when the Nixon tapes appeared it turned out that Dean's memory was full of holes and fabrications.

What's really bizarre about this example is that Joseph T. Hallinan in his book "Why We Make Mistakes" (2009) told the same story. Did Mlodinow read that book and forget or was he unaware of just how often the John Dean story had been told?

Even more bizarre is the fact that Mlodinow's example using pennies to show that we often look without seeing and miss a lot also appears in Hallinan's book complete with the same artwork which in turn came from an article in the journal "Cognitive Psychology" by Raymond S. Nickerson and Marilyn Jager Adams from 1979!

Mlodinow either did not read or hear of these examples or he did and forgot, which would be a great irony since Chapter 3 in the book is titled "Remembering and Forgetting." My point is that it's one thing to refer to something to make a point. It's another to rehash the entire story as though it had never been told before. I guess another thing to say is that when you write a popular book in a field that is not your first discipline you ought to read the other popular works that cover similar ground.

Incidentally, not for a moment do I think Mlodinow was aware consciously that Hallinan had used the stories in "Why We Make Mistakes." It's almost certainly just an interesting coincidence that perhaps more than anything suggests that "great minds think alike."

Aside from these oft-told stories there's more recalling of very familiar stuff such as his demonstration of the eye's blind spot and the done to death staged "shooting" in the Psych 101 classroom in which the eyewitnesses (students) get the details about what happened all wrong .And there's the "talking to a stranger on a busy sidewalk" demonstration of how the person we are talking to can change and we usually will not notice. I saw that on television some years ago. The trick was to have two people carrying something large come between the two people talking and switch the confederate.

It was at this point that I stopped reading. Maybe that's a shame because I'm sure there was some interesting stuff that I didn't get to among some stuff I've heard, seen and read before. Too bad I can't be like the character in Christopher Nolan's movie "Memento" for whom every joke was brand new and every story a new revelation since he couldn't remember anything for more than a minute or so.

One more thing, I did like the "subliminal" very day-glow green cover. I especially liked the almost invisible light green words following the title, subtitle and author's name as it runs down the front cover. In case you missed it, it looks like this:

In black letters (In very light green letters)
Subliminal
(Pssst...)
How Your (Hey)
Unconscious (There)
Mind (Yes:)
Rules (You, Sexy.)
Your (Buy)
Behavior (This)
(Book Now. You)
Leonard (Know You)
Mlodinow (Want It.)

The "subliminal" words show clearly in the photo of the cover on Amazon's page, but are much subtler on the actual book so that if you look directly at the cover you won't see the green words lost in the green cover, but when you pick the book up they flash at you.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
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80 of 102 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2012
I was hoping to learn something new in this book, or at least have something to talk about at a coctail party. I expected a little more from a physicist (author) who had worked with Stephen Hawking. The author used old examples of "subliminal" situations, like the horse who could do math by stomping his hooves. This example has been around for as long as I can remember. In some instances the author makes cases from a scarcity of evidence, like pointing out that people with the same last name tend to marry each other a little bit more than they do any other specific name (his sample set is quite small). He neglects to mention that there might be a tendency toward this because the population of a town may have more Joneses than Smiths, so of course Joneses would tend to marry one another and Smiths, in a different town, would tend to marry. When he does happen to write about something interesting, it is usually covered only superficially, so that one is left with a lack of solid understanding. Perhaps the most interesting "new" information in the book is covered in a couple of paragraphs, which discusses how brain imaging could detect which picture a subject was viewing (or sort of). Anyway, there's a scarcity of information in this book and while the reading doesn't take much effort, I felt like I was eating a bunch of rice cakes - not very good food with not too many calories. I'd pass this one up any day for Freakonomics or The Melting Spoon, for example.

Z
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2012
First, I'd just like to say how well written this book is. Mlodinow has done a wonderful job explaining these concepts in fun and informative ways. I found myself drawn into the book; I just wanted to keep on reading!

Now to the content: it's good. Mlodinow explores how conscious thought is the tip of the iceberg, and how unconscious processes within the brain actually effect the decisions we make. Citing research and experiments, Mlodinow makes the case that what we thought was the reason we made a decision is, in fact, merely an illusion conjured up by our minds. He's not saying all our decisions are due to unconscious processes, but our biases and intuitive reasoning gets the best of us, even though we aren't aware of it.

One particular favorite of mine was given in Chapter 2, "Senses Plus Mind Equals Reality." In this chapter, Mlodinow describes a patient, named TN, that had severe damage to the visual center of his brain. He was completely blind. TN had no conscious vision and could not see objects. What was fascinating was that researchers discovered that he could maneuver through a room full of obstacles without any help. Why? He'd been able to walk across a room without bumping into anything. What was the deal? Even though his conscious experience of sight was completely gone, his eyes still registered objects and sent that information to many parts of the brain. Even though TN's visual center was completely damaged, there were other centers in his brain that we registering what his eyes were seeing and making decisions based on that!

Whether your new to the developments of neuroscience or an expert, you'll gain a thing or two from "Subliminal." Not only will you look at yourself differently, you'll be able to make better decisions and actually get an understanding of how other people make decisions.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2012
The book is divided into two Parts, each about 100 pages.

The first part is mainly a historical review of science gradual understanding of the conscious and unconscious mind. This part contained little new materials and probably worth only 2 stars.

The book picked up a gear in the second half. There are some newer case studies in this part and the author presented some interesting ideas. Some of the experiments cited are a bit dated though and several only seemed to reinforce the obvious; ie not ground breaking stuff.

What I found lacking especially is any discussions on how others might be using subliminal stimuli to manipulate us. The book focused mainly on how our unconscious mind is suscept to certain biases and shortcuts/generalisations. I would have preferred a more practical treatment of the subject. But I did gain a few new ideas from the book so I am generously giving it 3 stars.

For those interested, I think "people will talk" by John Whitfield People Will Talk: The Surprising Science of Reputation is an excellent book that explores how we use reputation to control others and how others use reputation to control us; both consciously and subconsciously.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2012
In Subliminal, New York Times #1 bestselling author Leonard Mlodinow brilliantly offers a rich and comprehensive scientific narrative of the human brain. In his signature style, Mlodinow tackles the boundless complexities of modern science and expertly illuminates the subject for the non-scientist. As a lay reader, I was captivated by the myriad, mysterious and unconscious processes the brain employs in everyday life. From the very first page, I enjoyed the intellectual excursion into the human brain's topography, evolution and its psychoanalysis. As a criminal trial attorney, I found myself shouting in agreement with the chapter describing the brain's memory deficiencies and the unreliability of eye-witness identification testimony. For this reason alone, every lawyer, prosecutor, judge, police detective and potential juror should read this book. Because Subliminal is a fascinating adventure into the inner workings of the brain, this book will appeal to everyone else as well.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2012
Holes in our visual field, knitted into wholeness by our brains; blanks in our hearing filled in without our conscious awareness; memories, concocted whole from malleable bits of real and fabricated truth. These are the subject of Leonard Mlodinow's incredible book, "Subliminal."

Optical illusions and the vagaries of memory are not new topics. In fact, my major argument with the first half "Subliminal" was that so many of the studies it cited were familiar to me from other reading. How many of us have seen the test in which we were asked which 16 nearly identical Lincoln pennies were right one? But Mlodinow eventually compiles unfamiliar material into a compendium of cognitive legerdemain that would make the David Copperfields and Chris Angels of the world blush with shame. It seems that our brains stitch together a picture of reality from what cognitive scientists can show are imperfect images and sounds. A trivial example: the human eye has a blind spot (where the optic nerve pierces the cornea) but we "see" it only when we trick the brain's vision center by moving a dot carefully into its path. Our ears work the same way, filling in imperfectly-heard words based on context. Hearing only "the boy threw the _all" and the "the painter brushed the _all," the brain easily fills in the missing "b" and "w." What's amazing is that the person reports actually "hearing" these missing sounds, when they were auto-generated.

Mlodinow's writing about cognition is most striking (and worrying) in his discussion of memory. Whether it is our memory of the events of 9/11 or of a crime we witnessed, our memories are fallible, and (most distressingly) fungible. Studies show that memories, rather than being snapshots of reality tucked away in the protective file chests, actually change over time and can be easily implanted. In one striking study, students were asked to write their 9/11 recollections just a few days after the incident. Some years later, they were asked to write them again. The accounts differed so wildly that the students, when given their original recollections in their own handwriting, were hard put to believe them. Seemingly, memory is a narrative composed on the spot from bits and piece of actual experience, invented events and guesses about likely occurrences. The implications for eyewitness testimony about crimes were hard to miss. Upwards of 25% of eyewitness in a police lineup select fill-ins - innocent people added to the lineup. What does that say about their accuracy when they select the "criminal"?

"Subliminal" is disquieting and humbling -the kind of book that will make you wonder if your mind is really your own. But it is fascinating, and you will find myself talking about often with friends. Best of all, it will make you better at judging claims made by mere human beings, whose brains evolved to be just good enough to spot a crouching tiger, but not so good as to take in the infinite details of grass in which it lies.
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