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Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds 1st Edition

3.3 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471159629
ISBN-10: 047115962X
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Minimally, how many people must there be in a room to allow a better than 50 percent chance that two of them will have the same birthday? Your answer may reveal the presence of a cognitive illusion-a mental tunnel that confounds rational thought. Piattelli-Palmarini, director of the Cognitive Science Institute in Milan and a research associate at MIT, offers fascinating examples of such illusions to show how spontaneous, intuitive judgment can lead us astray. Our failure to grasp basic probability, for example, can lead to catastrophic decisions in law and medicine. The author describes the seven deadly mental sins and suggests ways to overcome bias and "mental sloth." This thoughtful, often disturbing book will challenge even those readers with a firm grounding in probability and statistics. For academic and large public libraries.
Laurie Bartolini, Legislative Research, Springfield, Ill.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A delightful informal survey...the best popular book yet in theis peculiar field" -- Nature

"A fascinating and insightful look." -- R. C. Lewontin, Harvard University
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (November 18, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047115962X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471159629
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.7 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #885,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Henrik Warne on June 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
Most people are familiar with term "optical illusion". One well-known example is the picture of two equally long lines, but one has arrow-heads at the end turned inward, while the other has arrow-heads turned outward. The arrow-heads make the lines appear to be of different lengths. They look something like this:
<------->
>-------<
However, most people are NOT aware that there are similar mental illusions that affect how we make decisions. This book describes what researchers have found in this field in the last decades, and it is a very interesting read.
For example, there is an effect called framing, which means that the way a question or a problem is phrased has a large impact on how we answer it. In an experiment, doctors were told that when using a certain medical procedure, the probability that the patient is alive two years later is 93%.
Another group of doctors were told that with another procedure there was a 7% chance of the patient dying within two years. Both groups of doctors were asked whether they would recommend the procedure or not. Significantly more doctors would recommend the procedure as stated in the first case than in the second, even though the two cases are identical! This shows how powerful the framing effect is.
Another example: A wheel is spun, giving a number from 0 to 100. After seeing the number, people are asked to estimate the percentage of African nations that are part of the UN. If the number on the wheel was high, people give a high estimate of the percentage, if low a low estimate is given, even though people know that the number on the wheel has nothing to do with the actual percentage. This mental illusion is known as anchoring.
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This is a collection of "optical illusions of the mind," i.e., puzzles to which the intuitive answers are wrong. It gives several examples with non-technical discussions but is mostly a framework around the "Monty Hall" problem, a classic demonstration that probabilities can be tricky things. The book's sub-title is overblown -- it is not an explanation of how the brain works or doesn't work, or of consistent ways in which the mind distorts reality -- and the author's writing style is hyperbolic. Some readers have seen this book as an important discussion of the human mental process; it is not that. Read around the pretention, though, and it is fun.
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Format: Paperback
The negative reviews (especially by the evolutionary psych devotee) are grossly unfair. This book is not written for those already familiar with the cognitive biases literature, especially not for graduates students in psychology. Instead it is an expansion of a popular article that appeared in Bostonia magazine in 1991, written for intelligent laypeople. As such it is effective, more accessible than anything else I've found, and excellent supplemental reading for basic classes in logic or statistics. The author's lack of appreciation of evolutionary psych in no way detracts from the book's value in making people aware of cognitive illusions. It does fall down however in lacking adequate discussion of methods for avoiding these illusions, such as the natural frequencies approach, and needs to be supplemented (e.g., with one of the popular books by Gigerenzer).
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Format: Paperback
The book has a great promise, delivers half-way, then peters out. I'd hoped for a wide-ranging discussions of cognitive "illusions", but found the book focuses almost entirely on the fact that we can't do statistical problems naturally without training. No real surprise there. Some of the "illusions" turned out to be stuff you learn how to do in undergrad statistics classes. I'd hoped for other areas to be covered: affects of social pressure, of vested interests, of faulty memory, etc.

I'd hoped for explanations of the evolutionary or cognitive reasons behind the "illusions", but perhaps they are not yet known. In any case, the author instead spends paragraphs in bombastic calls to rationality. The book can't decide whether to be an explanation of how we really think or a self-help book.

Still, all-in-all, it is a good place to start on this subject; but I'd appreciate a more complete, balanced if anyone could recommend one.
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Format: Paperback
I had high hopes for this book and after reading the intro and first couple paragraphs assigned it as an extra credit/optional text for a course on critical thinking and logic. As I continued reading however, I realized that I had made a mistake. The level of sophistication that is expected of the reader is extremely uneven. Sometimes concepts that are simple and easily understood are explained in greater detail than necessary. More frequently, in the middle and later chapters (the real meat of the book), complicated concepts and issues that ought to be introduced and explained are not; instead the author seems to assume that the reader knows all about them--which is a bad assumption for a popularization/intro-to-the-layperson book to make.

What I wanted for my students was a book that discussed empirical findings about how humans actually reason to motivate their learning about how we ought to reason. This book looked like a good option, but disappointed me. I found a better option in Ken Manktelow's _Reasoning and Thinking_. However, perhaps I should learn my lesson from my experience with _Inevitable Illusions_ and _finish_ reading the Manktelow book before recommending it.
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