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How We Decide Paperback – January 14, 2010
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"Over the past two decades, research in neuroscience and behavioral economics has revolutionized our understanding of human decision making. Jonah Lehrer brings it all together in this insightful and enjoyable book, giving readers the information they need to make the smartest decisions.”—Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error and Looking for Spinoza
“Jonah Lehrer ingeniously weaves neuroscience, sports, war, psychology, and politics into a fascinating tale of human decision making. In the process, he makes us much wiser.”—Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational
“Should we go with instinct or analysis? The answer, Lehrer explains, in this smart and delightfully readable book, is that it depends on the situation. Knowing which method works best in which case is not just useful but fascinating. Lehrer proves once again that he’s a master storyteller and one of the best guides to the practical lessons from new neuroscience.”—Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired and author of The Long Tail
“As Lehrer describes in fluid prose, the brain’s reasoning centers are easily fooled, often making judgments based on nonrational factors like presentation (a sales pitch or packaging)...Lehrer is a delight to read, and this is a fascinating book (some of which appeared recently, in a slightly different form, in the New Yorker) that will help everyone better understand themselves and their decision making.” —Publisher's Weekly, starred review
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---The Good Points---
* Lehrer does an excellent job of summarizing what is known about the brain's process for making decisions. He takes the reader through many examples of what happens on a chemical/electrical/biological basis inside the brain when it is going through a specific thought process. I found this material fascinating.
* There is also a good amount of material presented on how the brain makes decisions, and how this decision process can be enhanced or corrupted based on outside factors-how busy the brain is, the external environment, preconceived notions. In one experiment that I found fascinating, people were asked to remember either a 2 or 7 digit number. Those tasked with the two digit number were far less likely to be tempted by an offer of chocolate cake. Explained very much about my diet...
* Lehrer also takes the reader through numerous real world examples of decisions made in real time, and under stressful circumstances. Airline pilots seem to be a favorite area or research, and some of the stories and analysis were fascinating.
* The book is easy to read, light on technical and medical jargon, and presented more as mass-market non-fiction than any sort of research or scholarly work. I found it to have just the right level of technical detail, but I am pretty much a novice as brain surgery.
---The Not-So-Good Points---
* There is nothing new in the book, at least that I could discern. Mostly it is a rehash of existing work, albeit with some explanatory verbiage wrapped around it. Anyone who has read other books in this general area would probably be disappointed.
* It ended too soon. For each of the chapters, I always wanted to read more material about the subject and explanations of the results observed.
An excellent book if you haven't read much material in this area.
The real life examples from sports, politics, commercial aviation, gambling, etc may seem a little dated, but they are still applicable.
I see many of the reviewer complaints about "How We Decide" are because the book isn't technical or scientific enough, but it's not meant to be a college textbook. Just a really good overview of what's been going on recently in the field of neuroscience. In that, it succeeds brilliantly. Well written, not too technical. In fact, in my mind it was just right. Except for the length...I really didn't want it to end!
The author gives some nice ideas that seem like they would help with creating more cohesive models of the mind then already exist, but then goes back to the main ideas that feel fairly forced by the end of the book and repetitive. I enjoyed the book, and bits of it will stay with me for a fair while and for that I recommend it. But I can't say it's impressive, and often it feels like weak evidence is given as support, so to anyone trained in Psychology I'm unsure how much they would benefit from it.
The book starts with revealing the prediction-making system in our subconscious mind and why sometimes we are better off relying on our instincts than deliberate thinking. Then it moves on to discuss how this feeling-based mechanism should and can be corrected by the thinking-based rational decision making process occasionally, for short-comings such as limited ability to process information and tendency to see things the way we want to (and ignore the opposing facts). Lastly, the book discusses how we can combine our conscious and subconscious mind in decision-making.
If you are interested in books such as "Blink" and "Kluge", this book is a must-read - it explains the phenomenon better than similar books and gives more concrete suggestions. If you want to learn more about yourself, this book is a magic mirror looking right through your skull.
In sum, this is a quick, pleasant, and informative read for people who are curious about our mind.