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Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior Paperback – February 12, 2013
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Guest Reviewer: V.S. Ramachandran on Subliminal
V.S. Ramachandran is a neuroscientist known for his work in the fields of behavioral neurology and visual psychophysics. The author of The Tell-Tale Brain, He is the Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and is currently a Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Neurosciences Graduate Program at the University of California, San Diego.
This delightfully accessible yet intellectually rigorous book transcends traditional boundaries between neuroscience, psychology and philosophy, to tackle the riddle of the unconscious mind. Freud bashing is a popular intellectual pastime these days (I myself have been guilty on occasion) but Mlodinow shows that by emphasizing the unconscious he was on the right track: we are completely unaware of the vast majority of events going on inside our brains. The book presents compelling evidence gleaned from a variety of sources to show that much of our behavior is governed not so much by our conscious mind – which is prone to claim credit – but by a cauldron of motives, drives and unconscious propensities of which we are largely oblivious. Indeed, most of our actions are carried out by the unconscious mind (or minds ) which exists in peaceful harmony with the conscious person "inside" your body. The question of why we are conscious of the tip of the iceberg of neural activity continues to remain elusive but, perhaps, the answer can be found by asking what you can do without being conscious; What’s the IQ of the unconscious mind? Here Mlodinow offers dazzling new insights into what the unconscious can and does do, to influence our lives.--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
“With great wit and intelligence, Mlodinow takes us on a sweeping tour of this [mental] landscape and the latest revelations in neuroscience.”
—The Huffington Post
“Mlodinow plunges into the realm of the unconscious mind accompanied by the latest scientific research . . . [with] plenty of his trademark humor.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Clever [and] engaging. . . . A popular-science beach book, the sort of tome from which cocktail party anecdotes can be mined by the dozen.” —The Oregonian
“Fascinating. . . . Shows how the idea of the unconscious has become respectable again.” —The Economist
“A must-read book that is both provocative and hugely entertaining.” —Jerry A. Webman, chief economist, OppenheimerFunds, Inc., and author of MoneyShift
“Leonard Mlodinow never fails to make science both accessible and entertaining.”
—Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time
“An assault against the idea that we control our decisions and our beliefs in the way that we think we do . . . . A useful addition to the growing body of work arguing convincingly against the idea of the rational human brain.”
—The Daily Beast
“Mlodinow thinks in equations but explains in anecdote, simile, and occasional bursts of neon. . . . The results are mind-bending.”
“Mlodinow argues his case persuasively and with humor.”
—The Montreal Gazette
“In a loose, easygoing style, Mlodinow combines numerous accounts of scientific studies with pop-culture references and even personal anecdotes.”
“Mlodinow is the perfect guy to reveal the ways unrelated elements can relate and connect.”
—The Miami Herald
“This very enlightening book explores the two sides of our mental lives, with a focus on the subconscious or subliminal element. Drawing on clinical research conducted over a period of several decades and containing a number of rather startling revelations . . . the book appeals to readers with an interest in the workings of the human mind.”
“Think you know the whys and hows of your choices? Think again. Follow Mlodinow on a gorgeous journey into the enormous mental backstage behind the curtain of consciousness.”
—David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
“With the same deft touch he showed in The Drunkard’s Walk, Mlodinow probes the subtle, automatic, and often unnoticed influences on our behavior.”
—Daniel J. Simons, professor of psychology, University of Illinois, and coauthor of The Invisible Gorilla
“If you liked The Drunkard’s Walk, you’ll love Subliminal. This engaging and insightful book not only makes neuroscience understandable, it also makes it fascinating. You will look at yourself (and those around you) in a new way.”
—Joseph T. Hallinan, author of Why We Make Mistakes
“A highly readable, funny, and thought-provoking travelogue by Mlodinow, a trusted traveler in this treacherous region, who leads us on a tour of the little-known country that is our unconscious mind.” —Christof Koch, professor of cognitive and behavioral biology, California Institute of Technology
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"We choose the facts that we want to believe. We also choose our friends, lovers, and spouses not just because of the way we perceive them but because of the way they perceive us. Unlike phenomena in physics, in life, events can often obey one theory or another, and what actually happens can depend largely upon which theory we choose to believe. It is a gift of the mind to be extraordinarily open to accepting theory of ourselves that pushes us in the direction of survival, and even happiness. And so my parents did not sleep that night, while my father taught my mother to sew."
The details of that scene are best reveled within the narrative, in context, and have significance only if you have thought about all that Mlodinow has previously shared. I remain unconvinced that my subconscious mind rules my behavior or that it rules Mlodinow's but I realized decades ago that the subconscious was -- and remains -- one of the most powerful and yet least understood forces in neuroscience. Only recently has it been possible to quantify at least some of its influence on decision-making, for example. The Latin root of the word "subliminal" translates to "below threshold," suggests that there were a few curious souls who sensed, at least, that there was something other than reason involved with choices.
One of Mlodinow's primary purposes is serve as a travel companion for his reader during an exploration, in his words, "of our evolutionary heritage, of the surprising and exotic forces at play beneath the surface of our own minds, and of the impact of those unconscious instincts on what is usually considered willed, rational behavior -- and impact that is much more powerful than we have previously believed it to be."
These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Mlodinow's coverage.
o Interpretation of behavior (11-126, 38-41, 79-80, and 115-118)
o Collective behavior (26-29)
o Sensory input for brain (45-51 and 96-100)
o Phonemic restoration (48-50)
o Groups (68-70 and 161-175)
o Aggressive behavior 92-96)
o fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging (100-104)
o Perception (107-125, and 199-203)
o Impact of physical appearance (Pages 126-144)
o Competitive behavior, in-groups, and, conscious behavior (161-175 and 30-35, 42-45)
o Illusions (183-188)
o Introspection and self-identity (196-218)
o Motivated reasoning (200-214)
Mlodinow's narrative is lively and eloquent. However, Subliminal is by no means an "easy read but will generously reward those who read it with a combination of curiosity, attention, and patience. I re-read it before setting to work on this review and, as with a great novel rich in compelling drama involving memorable characters, my mind picked up points of information, insights, and wit I previously missed. For non-scientists such as I, Mlodinow manages somehow to cover a great deal of important material without dumbing it down. In this context I am reminded of the works of Richard Feynman and, more recently, Daniel Dennett.
Frankly, I have always been suspicious of "positive illusions" which, in my opinion, are actually delusions. Mlodinow has convinced me that such positive illusions/delusions can sometimes help people to overcome or at least cope more effectively with unpleasant realities. The value of this book will be determined almost completely by how receptive and accessible a reader is to material that may be unfamiliar or inaccessible. Trust him and trust yourself.
So, I urge you to read this book if you are curious to learn more than you know now about (a) the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind, (b) how they interact and sometimes compete, (c) what their interactions and separate activities reveal about decision-making, and finally (d) how an increased (albeit incomplete) understanding of what is happening "below threshold," ours and everyone else's. New knowledge and understanding await you, as do Leonard Mlodinow and his book. Let the journey of exploration begin.