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Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err is Human Hardcover – April 14, 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Obvious logical errors are always the ones other people make. Michael and Ellen Kaplan put this self-serving idea to rest, brilliantly and wittily exploring the sources of the fallacies that infect the thinking of us all. Bozo Sapiens is a book rich not only in examples, but in wisdom. Every one of its readers will learn from it.” ―Denis Dutton, author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution

“A beautifully written book; a heartfelt and powerful summary of decades of research into human reasoning quirks -- the bizarre heuristic and biases which make up the vast majority of our everyday practical 'reasoning'.” ―Metapsychology

“The mother-son co-authors of Chances Are…: Adventures in Probability (2006) turn their considerable authorial skills and wit to human behavior, from our isolated cave-dwelling ancestors to today's globalized, interconnected world… Gourmet reading--rich in ideas, global references and amusing and provocative examples, served with great style.” ―Kirkus

About the Author

Michael and Ellen Kaplan are mother and son, and coauthors of the bestselling Chances Are…: Adventures in Probability. Michael is an award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker who resides in Edinburgh, Scotland. Ellen is an archaeologist and cofounder of the Math Circle, a program for the exploration and enjoyment of mathematics. She is coauthor of The Art of the Infinite: The Pleasures of Mathematics and Out of the Labyrinth: Setting Mathematics Free. She lives in central Massachusetts.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596914009
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596914001
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #875,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on March 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Despite the medieval paintings, Error is not a single being, born of sin, and enemy of Man. Error, unpersonified, is a part of our thinking process - an ally. If a dangerous one, in understanding and controlling the world. Once we know its taxonomy, from slips to motivated reasoning, we can design our way out of some of it." (p. 139)

Bozo Sapiens is a book based on the above premise: that error in thinking is endemic to human nature. Take away our tendency to err, and you take away a part of what makes us human. While no one is saying that humans do not possess a good deal of rationality, the truth still runs contra to what logicians and some philosophers want us to believe: we are not always the rational animal.

The book starts with a lively discussion on what logic is (a tool for thought), why it is important, and why it is not the natural state of the mind. One must work at logic, as evidenced by the bevy just as alive today as when Aristotle first catalogued them. Rather than being the laws of thought (as some have supposed) logic is a sometimes unnatural tool that we can, but often don't, use to think our way to conclusions.

What else do we use? The answer is taken up by the next 2/3rds - the meat - of the book. First, there are sensory mistakes (optical illusions, false memories, selective listening, etc.). Since we humans rely on our senses for much of what we believe, when our senses go wrong, it is hard indeed to rectify the situation (try convincing the schizophrenic that there is no CIA plot to listen to his inner thoughts, or the ghost-hunter that it is all smoke and mirrors).

Another favorite fallacy of the Kaplan's is "motivated reasoning,"; what is more commonly called "confirmation bias.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I found Bozo Sapiens to be engaging, informative, well-written, and occasionally humorous. It was a pleasure to read. It's also very timely material. The nation is in the midst of a stupidity epidemic that shows no signs of abating any time soon, and this epidemic appears to be driven by deliberate choices. Among other things, this book helps shed light on why those particular choices get made.

This book intrigued me, because I have a strong interest in books on human intelligence or the lack thereof. Bozo Sapiens talks about the mistakes we make and misperceptions we have, and the reasons behind them. It explained some things I have been wondering about and caused me to think about other things I hadn't previously considered.

Bozo Sapiens was also well-researched. Since it draws from the literature in areas of brain research, neurochemistry, behavioral science, evolutionary biology, and other related topics, many of its references will be familiar to a person who is reasonably well-read in these topics.

One of the key concepts this book brought to me is there are good reasons for why we get things wrong. The brain adapts and alters its perceptions of reality to fit its expectations of reality. If we can account for that, we can avoid pointless self-flagellation and get on with things. We can also understand others better by recognizing that people can see the same facts or situation differently for reasons that have nothing to do with comparative intelligence.

The authors devote a significant amount of page space to exploring how and why our illusions and delusions serve good purposes.
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Format: Hardcover
There was something about this book that makes me hold back a star. It isn't the subject. I love reading works about cognitive distortions , especially as they impact the quality of life and business. Once you pursue this vein of study, you start seeing the same case studies and anecdotes used over and over. This book, refreshingly, has stories and perspectives decidedly its own in addition to the old and familiar.
But, there was something in its construction that left me flat. For one thing, there was no particular narrative arc that led anywhere. It was just a, seemingly random, collection of explorations that support the premise that we don't think nor act so rationally. And, then, at a more atomic level, there was something about sentence construction and analogy that stopped me rather than propelled me. For instance, to "illuminate" they offered that the subject they were explaining was like:
* Aishawarya Rai, or
* Waiting for Mr. Darcy, or
* The Great Fear of 1789, or
* The Maori Haka

Maybe what this illustrates is that I'm not as learned as they are. But, it seems to me that if you are using analogy to illustrate, you would choose more recognizable examples. I already knew about what they were trying to explain, but I didn't know about their analogies. It was things like this -- effects of construction -- that detracted from a cogent take-away.
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Format: Hardcover
I keep a file called "Neat Stuff" for facts and findings, mostly from the social and cognitive sciences, that catch my eye. *Bozo Sapiens* is a smorgasbord of Neat Stuff, containing hundreds of astounding and thought-provoking tidbits. (Shakespearean verbal ingenuity modulates brain wave patterns. On the basis of smell alone, women rate as most attractive those men whose immune systems are most different from their own. Some Amazon peoples condone infidelity on the theory that "children are formed like pearls, through successive layers of male insemination.")

But *Bozo Sapiens* is much more than just an assortment of oddments. In the last decade or so, philosophers and scientists from a multitude of disciplines have been converging on a new understanding of human nature that favors the irrational over the rational, the unpredictable over the regular, the probabilistic over the absolute. The Kaplans survey this new understanding from the standpoint of human error: "Wrong thinking, reasoning that could never stand up to scrutiny, is universal and nearly constant. Why?" They examine the origin and consequences of flawed logic and perceptions gone haywire in a variety of settings, including economics, cognitive psychology, engineering and design, group dynamics, evolutionary biology, and moral reasoning. Errors, they conclude, are "the permanent companions of our capabilities.... We err because we seek, we fail to grasp because we try the furthest reach."

As in the Kaplans' previous books (*Chances Are*, as well as *The Art of the Infinite* and *Out of the Labyrinth*, by Ellen Kaplan and her husband Robert), the writing in *Bozo Sapiens* has the virtues of the best conversationalists: clarity without pedantry, wit without ostentation. (In fact, it has taken me several tries to finish this review, because each time I flip through the book, I cannot resist rereading a few paragraphs...and then another page...and another.) Highly recommended.
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