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The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us Hardcover – May 18, 2010
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Tom Vanderbilt Reviews The Invisible Gorilla
Tom Vanderbilt writes on design, technology, architecture, science, and many other topics. He is author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) published in 2008 by Alfred A. Knopf, and Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America, published in 2002 by Princeton Architectural Press. He is contributing editor to I.D. and Print magazines, contributing writer at Design Observer, and writes for many publications, ranging from Wired to the New York Times to Men's Vogue to the Wilson Quarterly. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Do you remember when you first saw--or more likely, didn’t see--the gorilla? For me it was one afternoon a number of years ago when I clicked open one of those noxious-but-irresistible forwarded emails ("You Won’t Believe Your Eyes!"). The task was simple--count the number of passes in a tight cluster of basketball players--but the ensuing result was astonishing: As I dutifully (and correctly) tracked the number of passes made, a guy in a gorilla suit had strolled into the center, beat his chest, and sauntered off. But I never saw the gorilla. And I was hardly alone.
The video, which went on to become a global viral sensation, brought "inattentional blindness"--a once comparatively obscure interest of cognitive psychologists--into striking relief. Here was a dramatic reminder that looking is not necessarily seeing, that “paying” attention to one thing might come at the cost of missing another altogether. No one was more taken with the experience than the authors of the original study, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, as they recount in their new--and, dare I say, eye-opening--book, The Invisible Gorilla. "The fact that people miss things is important," they write, "but what impressed us even more was the surprise people showed when they realized what they had missed."
The Invisible Gorilla uses that ersatz primate as a departure point (and overarching metaphor) for exploring the myriad of other illusions, perceptual or otherwise, that we encounter in everyday life--and our often complete lack of awareness as we do so. These "gorillas" are lurking everywhere--from the (often false) memories we think we have to the futures we think we can anticipate to the cause-and-effect chains we feel must exist. Writing with authority, clarity, and a healthy dose of skepticism, Simons and Chabris explore why these illusions persist--and, indeed, seem to multiply in the modern world--and how we might work to avoid them. Alas, there are no easy solutions--doing crosswords to stave off cognitive decline in one’s dotage may simply make you better at doing crosswords. But looking for those "gorillas in our midst" is as rewarding as actually finding them.(Photo © Kate Burton)
From Publishers Weekly
Professors of Psychology Chabris and Simons write about six everyday illusions of perception and thought, including the beliefs that: we pay attention more than we do, our memories are more detailed than they are, confident people are competent people, we know more than we actually do, and our brains have reserves of power that are easy to unlock. Through a host of studies, anecdotes, and logic, the authors debunk conventional wisdom about the workings of the mind and what "experts" really know (or don't). Presented almost as a response to Malcolm Gladwell's blink, the books pay special attention to "the illusion of knowledge" and the danger of basing decision-making, in areas such as investing, on short-term information; in the authors' view, careful analysis of assumed truths is preferred over quick, intuitive thinking. Chabris and Simons are not against intuition, "...but we don't think it should be exalted above analysis without good evidence that it is truly superior."
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Top Customer Reviews
The illusions that they illustrate do seem to be common human failings:
o We overestimate our ability to multi-task
o We overestimate the accuracy of our memories
o We mistake confidence for capability
o We confuse causation with correlation
One particular peril that the authors justly explicate is the faultiness of eyewitness identification. No one who reads this book is likely to trust an eyewitness in a court of law.
The book, however, feels padded. The descriptions of the clever experiments are worthwhile, as are the critiques of faulty studies. But the authors expend a lot of verbiage on speculation, trying to squeeze whole chapters out of information that could be conveyed in two pages. They also seem to be rather confident that the next study won't contradict what the last one seemed to prove.
I also don't understand why they take a few illusions that humans fall prey to and declare that intuition is the culprit. We also are vulnerable to optical illusions, but we don't walk around with eyes shut.
So if your customer research is more anecdote than actuality, take a fascinating side trip through "The Invisible Gorilla." The book addresses six everyday illusions: Attention, Memory, Confidence. Knowledge, Cause, and Potential.
Warning! This hard-to-put-down book will be hard on you--if you've based your customer research on the wrong hypotheses, incorrect associations (versus cause), and "change blindness blindness." I'll read this book again--maybe three times!
The authors do a tremendous job of presenting their information in a well laid out fashion, with plenty of real-world examples to put the techno-jargon into easily understood terms. You will do well to read this book cover to cover with an open mind and a recognition that despite your own beliefs (and those of others), you may not be as awesome as you think you are, and that's okay. :)
If you are a student of the mind, this is a must-have book.