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How We Decide
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I read it on one (long) airplane flight, and was captivated by the material.

---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.
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on June 26, 2016
Are you trying to decide whether to read this book? I would tell your rational brain that this book is more about good (and bad) decision making. I would tell your emotional brain that you may enjoy the many "real life" examples set forth in this book. If you still can't decide, maybe you should just flip a coin.
The real life examples from sports, politics, commercial aviation, gambling, etc may seem a little dated, but they are still applicable.
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on February 28, 2018
good book, interesting insight. May not be the most scientifically rigorous, but i actually found this interesting and useful in my own life; often have a hard time choosing between things.
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on August 11, 2017
While the author's reputation may have suffered and his books largely consigned to the rubbish bin, I'd had this on my shelf for a long time and finally decided to read it. It is well written, entertaining and enlightening. It's too bad that the author who wrote it made such bad decisions himself.
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on February 26, 2012
I really enjoyed this book...what there was of it. I have the kindle edition so I can tell easily that 35% of the content is a combination of notes and footnotes.

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!
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on September 20, 2010
For the last several years I've mostly read textbooks, and this was a nice change of pace. The ideas seem about as well constructed as those found in my notes, not quite fully developed and require a bit of a stretch to accept, but interesting nonetheless.

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.
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on October 31, 2010
The book "how we decide" demonstrates the neurological foundation on which we make up our minds, with tons of intriguing experiments in a good combination of jargon and daily language. Its message is that how our brain is wired can help and hinder us to make beneficial decisions efficiently, and we can consciously alter that. I disagree with some critics saying that this book is a self-help book. It's much more than that.

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.
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on June 13, 2010
This book is about how human mind make decisions and how we can make better decisions. Following is the high level summary.

Sometimes we need to think through the options we have and sometimes we need to listen to our emotions. The secret is to know when to use these different styles of thought. Reason and feelings have important strengths and weakness. Different situations require different strategies. How we decide should depend on what we are deciding.

Our reasoning is like the charioteer and our emotions are the horses. People have disparaged the emotional brain, blaming our feelings for our mistakes. Emotions are crucial part of decision making. A brain that can't feel can't make up its mind.

Since Plato we have been assured that a perfectly rational world would be perfect world. This is not true. The reality of the brain is that, sometimes, rationality can lead us astray. Choking is one of the example of the havoc that can be caused by too much thought. It's an illustration of rationality gone awry.

One of the problem with feeling is that even when they are accurate, they can still be hard to articulate. Instead of going with the option that feels the best, a person starts going with the option that sounds the best, even if it's a bad idea. When we overthink at the wrong moment, we cut ourselves from the wisdom of our emotions.

The worst decisions happen when the emotions are silent or overwhelming. In order to make the right decisions, the mind needs emotional input. The emotional input needs to exists in dialogue with the rational analysis.

People in good mood are significantly better at solving hard problems that require insight than people who are cranky. This is because the brain areas associate with the executive control are preoccupied with managing the emotional life and it's hard for the executive control to focus on the problem.

The reason our emotions are intelligent is that they've managed to turn mistakes into educational events. We are constantly benefitting from our experience, even though we are not conciosulsy aware of the benefits. Becoming an expert takes time and practice. Once we've developed expertise with requisite mistakes,it's important to trust our emotions when making decisions in that domain. It's feelings that capture the wisdom of experience.
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on July 19, 2010
I love this book. I'm really into how the brain works and why we act a certain way based on core neurological functions, so I knew this would be right up my alley. Whats most appealing about this book is that Lehrer provides a lot of different anecdotes and interesting studies that would appeal to a lot of different interests and uses them to build upon the concept of emotional vs logical decision-making. In a way, it can also be used towards self-help (and maybe that's a stretch) because it encourages you to be more conscious of your own decision- making (or less-so in some cases!) and how to improve it. Very interesting and well written- not text-booky at all. Love it.
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on March 8, 2015
If you are self aware and are seeking to become more so, this is a must read. I feel I am more able to make better decisions, both in professional and personal life, more often. I have been giving it to everyone I know who can handle the topics to read. It's not an easy read as you have to think while turning the pages, but in my opinion that's the entire point.
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