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The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives Paperback – August 31, 2010
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"In The Hidden Brain, one of America's best science journalists describes how our unconscious minds influence everything from criminal trials to charitable giving, from suicide bombers to presidential elections. The Hidden Brain is a smart and engaging exploration of the science behind the headlines—and of the little man behind the screen. Don't miss it."—Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
"Shankar Vedantam brings his critical eye to a question that has haunted scientists and writers for centuries: Does the unconscious matter, and if so, how? With a light touch, the book takes us through the complicated landscape of research on psychology and human behavior. We come away not only understanding how we act, but Vedantam moves past mainstream economic reasoning to shed light on the relationships we create with each other. The book addresses the madness and beauty of our struggles to create a moral and just world." —Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Shankar Vedantam is a national correspondent and columnist for the Washington Post and a 2009 Neimann Fellow. He lives in Washington, DC.
From the Hardcover edition.
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That said, the author's own "hidden" biases are on full display as well. His chapter on racist bias immediately and definitively sets about showing that racism exists - the author relaying his own personal experiences with it as a minority - and then explores why. In fact, he has a couple of chapters that deal with racism in a fairly masterful way. Those are worth a read. However, in the chapter on sexism, he spends a few pages rambling on about how there's no real way to establish in any useful form that sexism is behind any individual incident that involves a woman. He eventually did get it together and pull out of his spiral to discuss sexism as experienced by trans individuals, but not without the disclaimer that a lot of that discrimination might be attributable to bias against alternative sexuality. Having read substantial amounts of - yes, scientific - as well as less rigorous studies into sexism, I found that chapter sloppy and poorly assembled. It was clearly not the priority for him that racism was. And being dismissive of 51% of the global population is probably a poor strategy for success. I'd have more respect for his book if he simply said, "I'm going to focus on racism since it's where my interest lies," and then not addressed sexism at all. Fair enough - we tend to speak to what we know. But to throw in a sloppy, poorly assembled chapter on sexism, and then act as if it could barely be quantified as a societal force - despite the massive crowds of people globally saying otherwise - felt insulting and dismissive. Definitely a turn-off.
All in all, I can't give this a huge thumbs up or down. It's okay. But if you're only going to read one book in this genre, I'd recommend "Mistakes were Made But Not By Me" or "Dataclysm."
Freud likened the mind to an iceberg with its tip (above the water ) being the conscious mind and the bulk of it (under the water), being the unconscious mind. This is significant as it implies that most of mental work is done by the unconscious mind. Later research and development showed this to be true. Indeed some psychologists believe that only 25 percent of our mind's work is accomplished by our conscious mind. What is curious about this arrangement is that the conscious mind is mostly unaware of the actions of the unconscious mind. This is not only surprising but also mystifying. In other words , after having made a seemingly conscious decision we would be told it was really the hidden brain that had done the work,or at least had guided us to the decision. If someone is told that he does not understand how his mind works he is likely to be offended, yet, this has become an acceptable fact in psychology.
The contents of this unconscious mind have been somewhat of a mystery. Freud thought it is a reservoir containing our feelings, concerns, fears, and memories which are outside the scope of our awareness. The reason they are suppressed down below is because their surfacing might be disturbing or annoying, e.g. like remembering an ugly crime . How can one access this reservoir? One way is through psychoanalysis as Freud had done using the power of reasoning and allowing several sessions to unravel a patient's background. More often the contents surface in dreams or else through hypnosis. On reading about this strange arrangement one cannot help but wonder: Was this an integral part of our creation, or did it evolve in us over time?
Although we are accustomed to think of the unconscious mind at the personal level, the author gives it another dimension by demonstrating its effect in groups and institutions. He does this using anecdotes and case studies. The danger here is that often the anecdote is in itself so exciting that it overshadows the psychological analysis. One issue dealt with here is racial bias which is presumably generated by our unconscious brain. One researcher in Canada, G. Aboud, tried to trace the origin of this issue by showing little children a picture of a white man and a black man. She would tell the little 3-5 years-old stories about a robbery, or any other offending event, and ask the children to point to the possible culprit in the picture. Invariably most of them would point to the black man . No matter how the question was repeated the result was the same. Where did this bias come from? Parents? Teachers? Friends? She wondered. And would it be embedded and sealed in their hidden reservoir until it surfaces later in life creating our modern-day problematic racial discrimination?
Surely, there is a lot more research to be done on this mystifying unconscious mind.
Fuad R. Qubein
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- Vedantam constantly just retails common knowledge: that crime witnesses are often unreliable, that people...Read more