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Why Choose This Book?: How We Make Decisions 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0525949824
ISBN-10: 0525949828
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Why do we choose chocolate ice cream over vanilla ice cream? Why do we select one lover rather than another? Baylor University neuroscientist Montague (now a fellow at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study) deftly marries psychology and neuroscience as he probes how we make choices. On one hand, decision making boils down to simple computation. Montague argues that our brains are efficient computational machines. But unlike computers, our brains fix on the goals of survival and reproduction, realizing that every hasty decision can be costly to the survival of the species. Our brains also harbor experiences (memories) that foster the choices we make. On the other hand, we can make choices that go against survival: for instance, we can choose to die for an idea. Why is that? Because, says Montague, human computations involve valuation, choosing between one value and another, requiring computation of cultural and psychological qualities. Although the notion of the brain as a computational machine can be traced at least as far back as Descartes, Montague adds new ideas to our understanding of how our brains compute. But his sometimes engaging and sometimes plodding book doesn't always explain the complex science for general readers. (Nov.)
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[Montague is] an expert on mental function and the brain. -- The New York Times

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; 1st edition (November 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525949828
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525949824
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,488,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a informative book on decision making by the human brain. The author is a leader in this field who has made several notable contributions to the literature. Montague's basic theme is that convergence of experiments from and perspectives of several different disciplines, including neurophysiology, psychology, economics, and computer science, is generating considerable insight into human decision making and goal directed behaviors. I'm familiar with some of the primary literature in this area and I find that Montague does a good job of presenting the facts. Quite a bit of the discussion reflects Montague's research interests.
Montague begins in a somewhat surprising place, the efficiency of the brain. Most people who have thought about this issue tend to regard the brain as something of a kludge; slow, inefficient, and jerry-rigged by evolutionary compromises. Montague argues well that this impression is not correct. Rapid processing can be purchased only at the cost of high energy expenditure. Montague argues that proportional to energy expenditure, mammalian brains are remarkably efficient.
Montague then moves on to describe some of the most impressive recent results in neuroscience; the discovery of the role of dopamine signaling in reinforcement learning. This discovery represented a remarkable convergence of theory and experimental results. Montague explains this phenomenon well and discusses how this phylogenetically ancient mechanism emerged to respond to basic rewards and was probably coopted to serve more general functions. Montague discusses the closely related topic of valuation and its probable mechanisms and functional circuitry, then concludes with some more speculative discussions of learning and aspects of social behavior including altruism.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In a mostly engaging technical look at the decision making mechanisms within the human mind and its evolution, Montague explores what the characteristics of an efficient computational machine are, primarily within the confines of Turing's 'philosophy'. Specifically, the book explains the how mind evolves through interactions and the notions of how we frame the value of choices available to us and how we assign costs to these choices. Covering disparate topics such as computational theory of mind, neuromodulatory systems, dopamine delivery, Redish's model, etc., the author paints a detailed picture of the various critical research directions that have enables us to understand the functioning of the human mind.

The book is not an easy-read in terms of the depth of the material covered (no reputable author would try to dumb this material down to a Cliff's note version). The discussion is mostly engaging, though sometimes, the topics change quite abruptly. The chapters do not necessarily seem to be seamlessly transitioned, and it would have served the reader, if the author summarized the main observations more clearly in each chapter. Despite these minor irritations, the book is a treasure trove for anyone interested in this field, though may not be sufficient for a serious student in this field. The end notes are well organized and detailed. An excellent read for a patient, curious reader. 4.5 stars
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Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent account of various closely related concepts in modern computational neuroscience, communicating to non-mathematical readers key theories such as predictive error signals and the dopamine system, temporal difference theory, cognitive control, neuroeconomics etc, testable in humans using behavioural and neuroimaging methods. As a philosopher observed, this approach hog-ties old philosophical dogmas. Indeed its a valuable antidote to philosophy, and unlike millennia of philosophical effort (including Satre), this approach is making very active progress. Highly recommended.
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This book may be fine for someone who does not know much about information theory or standard cognitive psychology, but it was disappointing for me, because Montague is a talented neuroscientist with some great discoveries under his belt, and I wanted a description of the neuroscience "value added." Instead, it is a very general book for the novice, and very rarely addresses what is really new--the neuroscientific evidence on how brains synthesize diverse pieces of information to come to a single decision.

There is a way to be both popular, highly informative, and accurate. Montague has not found the way. He has no qualms about saying things that are either obviously false. Obvious: "So choice is about relative value, and relative valuation arose because life runs on batteries, energy is limited, and there's no free lunch." (p. 225) Obviously false: "Efficiency = the best long-term returns from the least immediate investment." (p. 18). Indeed, so much of what he says in this book is obvious that I often found myself bored and distracted.

On page 103, Montague describes the neural mechanism that effects the integration of disparate signals concerning the value of various actions. However, there is absolutely no attempt to describe the neural processes involved. I understand that the biochemistry of the brain is complex, but it would still be nice to have a chapter on basic brain structure, a second on signaling, etc. The material in this section should be heavily diagramed, and perhaps even a simple equation or two illustrating the real neural processes involved in choice. Montague is obviously afraid that if he goes to deeply in the material, he will lose the reader, or the reader's attention. But, this is not necessarily the case.
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