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Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives

4.1 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 858-0001311968
ISBN-10: 0393076024
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Writing a book about the hardware and software flaws of the human brain is an ingenious idea, and Buonomano has fully delivered on its promise. To a degree that is difficult for most of us to imagine, much less understand, our successes and failures, joys and sufferings, are the product of protein interactions and electrical changes taking place inside our heads. Brain Bugs is a remarkably accessible and engaging introduction to the neuroscience of the human condition."
Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Moral Landscape, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The End of Faith

"In Brain Bugs, Dean Buonomano has brilliantly pulled off what few psychological scientists can do. In elegant and clear writing, he masterfully conveys the astonishing capability of the human mind, along with its flaws and limitations. Only when we fully understand our ‘bugs' will we be able to make the best financial, political, marital, and other decisions that are so important in shaping our lives."
Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Eyewitness Testimony

"What a great book, filled with nuggets about how the brain works-and falters-and even some suggestions on how to put it to better use. Very enjoyable."
Joseph LeDoux, New York University neuroscientist and author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self.


"He takes readers on a lively tour of systematic biases and errors in human thinking, citing examples that are staples of psychology courses and other popular books. What is new, however, is Buonomano’s focus on the mechanisms of memory, especially its "associative architecture," as the main causes of the brain’s bugs."
Christopher Chabris, New York Times

"What makes the book all the more compelling is the lucidity with which Buonomano recognizes, amidst its weaknesses, the brain's insurmountable strengths, feats artificial intelligence is ages from reaching--most notably, its remarkable penchant for pattern-recognition and what Buonomano calls "the inherent and irrepressible ability of the brain to build connections and make associations." And whatever we may say of the future of the Internet and technology, even our most optimistic predictions pale in comparison to the remarkable information processes taking place, quite literally, under our very roofs. (And, if we're really keeping score, Buonomano points out that the brain's 90 billion neurons linked by 100 trillion synapses far surpass the web's 20 billion web pages connected by 1 trillion links.)"
Maria Popova, The Atlantic

"One of the things I liked most about this book was the way it leaps from neuron to brain and then to person and on to society and back again, making useful comparisons all the way. ... You won’t eliminate the bugs in your brain by reading this book – we have no delete button for memories or the emotions that lead us astray – but you will understand them better."
Susan Blackmore, Focus Magazine

About the Author

Dean Buonomano is the author of Your Brain Is a Time Machine and Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives. A neuroscientist and professor at UCLA, and a leading theorist of the neuroscience of time, he lives in Los Angeles, California.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (July 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393076024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393076028
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #426,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
*A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com.

The main argument: As much as we rely on our brains to navigate the complex world before us, anyone who has ever forgotten someone's name, or misread a situation, or made a poor decision in the heat of the moment knows that the brain does not always work as we would want. In his new book `Brain Bugs', neurobiologist Dean Buonomano explores the brain's many pitfalls and mistakes (and how and why it makes them), and also offers up some advice on how we can best manage these so called `brain bugs' in our everyday lives.

Buonomano identifies 3 major sources whence brain bugs originate. The first has to do with the fact that our brains are the product of evolution, and have evolved as they have to answer the specific challenges that we faced in our evolutionary history; therefore, while our brains may be well adapted to perform functions that were particularly important in our survival and reproduction in the environment in which our species evolved, they may not do as well at functions which, though handy, did not figure as prominently in our evolutionary past (remembering names seems to fall under this category). The second source of our brain bugs may be attributed to the fact that while evolution has brought us a host of useful mental abilities that have allowed us to survive and thrive, it is still a rather clumsy process, and as such does not always offer up perfect, or even optimal solutions; thus the mental systems that we have are sometimes prone to error and quirky behaviour (hence optical illusions, the ever raging and somewhat awkward battle between our reason and our impulses, and a number of other interesting effects).
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Format: Hardcover
While covering a very interesting topic by a undoubtedly talented author, the book falls short of other similar books in the field of psychology. The author's writing is very slow to start, dancing around the same topic endless without exploring it in depth or giving concrete real world examples. This is somewhat remedied near the end of the book but 70 pages could be cut from the book and express the same ideas clearly.

As regular reader of popular science psychology books, I thought my opinion of the book might have been tainted by nostalgia and familiarity with the concepts but upon rereading passages from previous books I found that this was not the case. If you are looking for more enjoyable books in the same area I suggest reading:

Stumbling on Happiness
The Paradox of Choice
How we Decide
Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior

All of the above provide a more enjoyable experience by engaging the reader with interesting in-book activities and well paced writing.
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Format: Paperback
In this review I plan to give a brief overview of the content of BRAIN BUGS, some of the author's stylistic choices and opinions, and my reactions to them. As well, an overall opinion of the book.

Buonomano explores the nature of the human brain and its most apparent flaws, separating the book into 9 chapters 7 of which are devoted to specific "brain bugs", or in other terms, common pervasive cognitive mistakes that affect all of us in ways ranging from funny and annoying to downright deadly. The first chapter is simply an introduction into the associative architecture of the brain and the last chapter serves as a conclusion.

Despite the author's categorization of this book, I break the book into two basics categories. The first category (the one I prefer) is where the author actually tries to teach the reader about brain structure and function. He dives into Hebbian plasticity, action potentials, synapses, and neurotransmitters. Best of all, he creates really great analogies throughout that make these concepts more tangible and easier to process. I'll give an example (other than comparing a brain to a computer). The author illustrates the concept of a synapse as akin to a game show where the contestant has to decide between two answers and is allowed to poll the audience. "Some members of the audience have louder voices than others, or some are known to be more reliable. The behavior of a given neuron is determined by the net sum of what thousands of presynaptic neurons are telling it".
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Format: Paperback
This book investigates structural and procedural aspects of thought, imposed as evolutionary solutions to selection pressures. Problems with memory, both accuracy and quantity, problems making accurate judgements of time, problems with disproportionate and distorting influence of fear, and problems with reasoning in which our intuitions conflict with what we can establish to be true by more rigorous statistical thinking are areas which are discussed. The neurobiologic mechanism underlying these problem areas is laid out and then the "bugs" which follow from the evolutionary solutions are examined.

An example of the difficulties which arise in the attempt to use the brain for thinking rationally is rooted in the use of association for understanding the deluge of data each brain is presented with on a daily basis. Association works well to correlate a red color with a poisonous plant, less well to serve our own interests when it associates promise of sexual fulfillment with a cigarette brand, a make of car, a perfume fragrance, or a particular type of underwear, as a result of some advertisement. The book examines how these faults are capitalized on by advertisers and purveyors of political propaganda in order to sell us goods or to capture our vote.

A chapter on the human propensity to believe in supernatural causes provides thought provoking associations between the fallacies to which the brain is prone based on its neural hardware and beliefs in supernatural entities. By reading other reviews of this book, it is clear that a large number of people don't want this particular box opened and peered into. In all fairness, the data in this regard is far from conclusive.
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