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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2013
If you enjoyed Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, then you should enjoy this book by Mlodinow, though, as several other reviewers have commented, Mlodinow is a theoretical physicist by trade, whereas Kahneman is a fully-fledged psychologist. The end result of Mlodinow's efforts is popular social cognitive neuroscience written by a highly intelligent author. It's an honourable genre.

I found Mlodinow's book to be potentially more intriguing than Kahneman's, because it deals with the `unconscious' mind - a concept that Kahneman avoids. The concept of the unconscious has been tarnished, especially for psychologists, by its association with the charming but unscientific conjectures of psychoanalysts such as Freud (who popularised the concept) and Jung (who took the idea on to a further level of delightful battiness with his idea of the collective unconscious and other hugely enjoyable nonsense). There remained the nagging feeling that Freud and Jung were exploring a real aspect of the human experience, even though they were reduced to inventing explanations for our strange behaviour in the absence of any scientific understanding of what was really going on in the human brain/mind - conscious or unconscious.

Mlodinow takes up the baton on behalf of the unconscious, and coins the new term 'subliminal' to sidestep the dodgy, unscientific connotations of the older term. 'Our subliminal brain is invisible to us,' writes Mlodinow, 'yet it influences our conscious experience of the world in the most fundamental of ways: how we view ourselves and others, the meanings we attach to the everyday events of our lives, our abilities to make quick judgement calls and decisions that can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, and the actions we engage in as a result of all these instinctual experiences.'

His heart isn't really in the whole 'subliminal' thing, however, and he quickly fesses up to his real aim: to move towards a 'new science of the unconscious'. Referring to the new brain scanning technologies that allow us to see what is happening in our brains when we experience certain things, Mlodinow argues that it is possible 'for the first time in history, for there to be an actual science of the unconscious' and he declares his aim: 'The new science of the unconscious is the subject of this book.'

If the unconscious mind is of interest to you, then this is probably all you need to let you know that you will enjoy this book. I did.

Mlodinow discusses how our minds assemble what we experience from raw sensory data: how the brain creates what we 'see' from imperfect signals, for example; how what we experience is a combination of data and the mind's expectations, and how disturbingly unreliable our memories are. But for me the book's most interesting subject matter comes after this, when Mlodinow begins to explore how 'our social perception ... appears to proceed along pathways that are not associated with awareness, intention, or conscious effort.' In other words, how most of the really clever things that we do, like our instinctual understanding of what other people are feeling, happens outside what we think of as our conscious minds.

Mlodinow explores the way in which this essential aspect of being human also leads us into some difficult places in the modern world: we jump to conclusions about people; we like and trust 'our' group and mistrust other groups; our decision-making is affected by emotional factors of which we are, in general, completely unaware, and our concept of 'self' is a right old hotchpotch of whatever helps us come to terms with the things that we have done, often for reasons that were not available to our conscious minds.

I'm not sure that an improving 'science of the unconscious' will actually enable us to live the examined life that all good rationalists aspire to, but it will be a lot of fun finding out why we actually do the things that we do.

I enjoyed this book, with the slight caveat that I felt I learned rather more about Mlodinow's mum than I really needed to know. But in a nice way.

-- Jonathan Gifford, author of 'Blindsided: How business an society are shaped by our irrational and unpredictable behaviour'
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2012
Your unconscious runs your life whether you realise it or not is the message and it has been demonstrated in many experiments which are described in this fascinating book. The author first of all explores the unconscious of the individual and then in the second half of the book explores the social unconscious which affects the way we behave when we are part of a group.

The book is written in an easy approachable style with plenty of examples to demonstrate the points the author is making. He shows that even what we see with our own eyes isn't necessarily what is there. We all have a blind spot in the middle of each eye of which we are completely unconscious because our brains process the picture before we're aware of what we're seeing and fill in the gaps so that we see a whole picture.

We don't remember all the details of events and scenes - just the outlines - and our brains fill in the gaps with what seems most logical from our store of similar situations. Memories can be created in such a way that we truly believe that things actually happened the way we think they did. This happens all the time in small ways but it can be of much more importance in false memory syndrome where people are persuaded they remember things which actually didn't happen.

In the second half of the book the author shows how much of our interactions with other people are governed by the unconscious. In a group people come to a consensus of opinion which they would not necessarily agree with if they were on their own to the extent of giving deliberately wrong answers to questions in order to agree with the majority view. Two and two may equal five in this situation! Even scientists can be guilty of using data to support their own theories and ignoring what doesn't fit with their preferred ideas.

If you are interested in understanding your own life and the way you often make decisions or take actions which you can't explain then try this book. You might be surprised by how little of your life is under your conscious control. There are plenty of notes to each chapter which will give the interested reader other books to try and there is an index.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2014
Opens huge new vistas about why people behave in the baffling ways they do (including myself of course!!!). An invaluable aid to consciousness and the author writes in such an accessible and amusing way. I really recommend the book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 2, 2012
I love listening to this stuff in audiobook format, then find them really frustrating to review - I have a great time listening but then I sit down to summarize and realize that I'm missing all the specifics I'd like to have in front of me when formulating my opinion.

SUBLIMINAL is a book about automatic behaviors. Things we do without thinking, because they're dictated by our unconscious mind. The example that really hooked me into buying this book reported that couples who met for the first time on a bridge over a deep ravine, where they were frightened by the drop below, reported feeling higher levels of attraction for one another than couples who met in pleasant locations that didn't get the adrenalin pumping. So we might think we like someone, but maybe it's just our autonomic nervous system fooling us. And we can't tell the difference.

Mlodinow covers a ton of really cool examples. Another favorite of mine involved photocopiers, but he also talks about how the font on menus affects the way we taste food, or whether or not we think recipes are too complicated to cook. Our self-image, racial prejudice, eyewitness accounts of crimes...by the end, it's clear that our unconscious mind interferes with just about everything.

SUBLIMINAL is definitely science-lite, but it's not one of those big-idea, Gladwell-style books. Instead of trying to blow our minds with his theory of everything, he sticks to his topic and aims to be thorough. Yes, humans can be rational actors - but we aren't always, and there's proof. Yes, there are batteries of studies that show how our unconscious mind can overpower conscious reasoning, while we remain totally unaware and, in fact, quite confident that we're thinking our way through to a decision rather than behaving instinctively. Yes, this kind of adaptation is generally useful.

I find this kind of stuff fascinating and I had a great time listening to the book. Its primary quirk is that Mlodinow peppers his text with dad jokes. If you don't know what a dad joke is...I can only assume you are a dad who makes dad jokes on a regular basis. It's cute and dorky and took a little while to get used to, but lends the book a sort of sweet earnestness that, again, sets it apart from slick Gladwell-style "big idea" tomes.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2012
This was a fairly comprehensive look at the way the unconscious rules our lives. Had it been the first such book I had read, I would have liked it more.

For me, there was little that was new for me and the style was a bit bland in the telling of it. So many many books a bout the same few experiments.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I was attracted to this book because it won the EO Wilson 2013 award for science writing... Need I say more?

This work surpassed my expectations. It was written in an accessible style for us novices. Contained enough humor to be endearing. It offered brilliant and surprising insights into the inner workings of our minds - and indications of how our unconscious mind is in charge much of the time - without our knowledge!!!

Starting from the evolutionary development of the subconscious and its value to us from a survival POV, this work provides an integrative look at how the mind works in general, and how the subconscious takes care of many tasks for us - and which we are unaware of.

Amazing book. Thank you!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2013
Most of what happens in the human brain is below the level of consciousness. We don't think about how to walk, or how to type or even how to drive home from work. These things all happen automatically, unless we happen to focus our attention on them. And it has to be that way. Imagine if you have to focus your attention on each step of each task. But the subconscious mind is far more important than a servant that manages menial tasks. It also plays an important role in decisions that we think of as conscious and thoughtful. This well-written book provides an excellent guide to how our subconscious minds work, and how important they are in every day life. Everyone can and should benefit from reading books like this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2014
...that serious scientists can be funny. It's also hard to imagine that Dr. Mlodinow, who is an eminent physicist and wrote The Grand Design with Stephen Hawking, would turn his gaze to the humanistic and abstract world of the unconscious. But then again, the universe and the mind are both mysterious realms and perhaps figuring out how these massively complicated systems work is the author's passion. It's wonderfully footnoted, which makes for a great primer on the subject for those who are academically inclined. For those who'd just prefer to casually read up on the subject, the dry witty language makes for a good time and you'll find yourself breezing through the book easily. Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2013
I simply couldn't believe all the 5 star reviews this book had, so I took it out of the library. I'm up to about page 80 and just bought it on Amazon because I need to re-read from page one but with a highlighter!

Did you know that in a blind taste test, most people pick Pepsi? But if they knew what they were drinking, they pick Coke? That is the power of advertising!

There is so much useful information to ponder, help make decisions, help understand the decision we made, help understand others and better understand their decisions.

I hope someone makes this into a series of 1 hour documentaries. Yes, this book is THAT GOOD!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2014
I liked this book because shows us the new ways to know the unconscious mind. It is not the old Freudian, obsolete view of the unconscious. The problem with this book is the optimistic conclusion. We need to find a balance between the over powering unconscious mind and the realistic mind. Mlodinow believes it is all right to let the unconscious mind pretends more than our real possibilities. For that reason we are destroying our planet: we are producers of trash. We need to be more realistic, humble persons; we need to know our limitations; we need to know that we have very poor brains, and our unconscious mind takes a great deal of our thinking.
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