Book Review: Incognito

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Neuroscientist David Eagleman proposes in his book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, that most of what you do, think and believe is generated by parts of your brain to which you have no access. His writing provokes thought and understanding.

The title of this book refers to its theme that we don’t really “know” ourselves. Eagleman describes how most of our thought processes are unconscious and not accessible to us, most of the activity going on without our being aware.

Almost the entirety of what happens in your mental life is not under your conscious control, and the truth is that it’s better this way.Incognito When consciousness meddles in details it doesn’t understand, the operation runs less effectively. One does not need to be consciously aware to perform sophisticated motor acts. We are not conscious of most things until we ask ourselves questions about them. The brain generally does not need to know most things; it merely knows how to go out and retrieve the data. It computes on a need-to-know basis. We are not conscious of much of anything until we ask ourselves about it. We are unaware of most of what should be obvious to our senses; it is only after deploying our attentional resources onto small bits of the scene that we become aware of what we were missing. Before we engage our concentration, we are typically not aware that we are not aware of those details. So not only is our perception of the world a construction that does not accurately represent the outside, but we additionally have the false impression of a full, rich picture when in fact we see only what we need to know, and no more. (p. 28)

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Comments (0) Aug 06 2011


Book Review: The Upside of Irrationality

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Dan Ariely previously wrote Predictably Irrational which I read and enjoyed. In this follow-up, Ariely reveals the beneficial outcomes and pleasant surprises that often arise from irrational behavior; he examines some of the positive effects irrationality has on our lives and offers a new look on the irrational decisions that influence our personal lives and our workplace experiences.The Upside Of Irrationality

What Ariely suggests about our tendency toward hedonic adaptation is compelling:

Hedonic adaptation is the process of getting used to the places we live, our homes, our romantic partners, and almost everything else. It is an emotional leveling out–when initial positive and negative perceptions fade. When we move into a new house, we may be delighted with the gleaming hardwood floors or upset about the garish lime green kitchen cabinets. After a few weeks, those factors fade into the background. A few months later we aren’t as annoyed by the color of the cabinets, but at the same time, we don’t derive as much pleasure from the handsome floors. (p. 168)

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Comments (0) Aug 06 2011


Book Review: The Social Animal

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The Social AnimalNew York Times columnist David Brooks uses his book, The Social Animal, to assemble his evidence for the causes of success and failure in life, and to draw implications for social policy.

Brooks shares some insight in the way we learn and communicate, which I found interesting:

Automaticity is achieved through repetition, or “reach and reciprocity.” You start with the core knowledge in a field, for example, then venture out and learn something new. Then come back again and reintegrate the new morsel with what you already know. Then venture out again. Then return. Too much reciprocity and you end up in an insular rut. Too much reach and your efforts are scattershot and fruitless. Learning is not merely about accumulating facts. It is internalizing the relationships between pieces of information. (p. 87, 89)

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Comments (0) Aug 06 2011


Book Review: The Tipping Point

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The Tipping PointThe Tipping Point is about social phenomena and change, in which Gladwell presents life as a social epidemic. He explains how ideas and behaviors spread. Gladwell makes an interesting discovery about kids viewing the show Sesame Street:

After holding experiments, researchers discovered that kids were a great deal more sophisticated in the way they watched the show (or TV) than had been imagined. Kids don’t watch when the are stimulated and look away when they are bored. They watch when they understand and look away when they are confused. Psychologist Elizabeth Lorch said, “Children didn’t just sit and stare, either. They could divide their attention between a couple of different activities. And they weren’t being random. There were predictable influences on what made them look back at the screen, and these were not trivial things, not just flash and dash.” (p. 101-102)

Gladwell also discusses a study of how the frequent cleaning of graffiti from railway cars actually reduced the occurrences of vandalism. He explains it with the idea that crime is contagious. He proposes that ideas and behaviors and new products move through a population very much like a disease does.

There is an epidemic theory of crime that says crime is contagious–just as a fashion trend is contagious–that it can start with a broken window and spread to an entire community. Criminologists James Wilson and George Kelling argued that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. (p. 141)

I found The Tipping Point a well-written, interesting and entertaining read.

Comments (0) Aug 06 2011


Summer Reading 2011

Posted under: education, philosophy, psychology, science.
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I had half the summer off from school, so naturally I took this opportunity to do some leisure reading. I read some interesting books, all covering my favorite subjects: Neuroscience, psychology, forensics, economics, and science in general.

For nearly every book I read, I take copious notes in Evernote so that I can refer back to the most significant and fascinating things I learn and want to remember. I’ve selected some excerpts from my notes for the books I’ve read the past couple of months, and will post them with reviews for each book.

I enjoy reading. I especially love when my reading prompts further questions and inspires me to study a subject further. I still have a stack of books to tackle before classes start. Yes, I’m a book nerd. :-)

Comments (0) Aug 06 2011


Book Review: Endless Forms Most Beautiful

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Endless Forms Most Beautiful
Brent has been participating in a science book club. I love reading books about science; however, going to school in addition to working full time makes it difficult for me to find the time for leisurely reading. Fortunately I had a week of vacation from work scheduled simultaneously with a break between semesters of nursing school. I eagerly picked up this month’s assigned book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo from the library.

Author Sean B. Carroll discusses evolutionary developmental biology which is the relationship between embryonic development and evolutionary changes. He explains how “tool kit genes,” a small number of genes which emerged 600 million years ago, are the primary components for building all animals. He discusses how the amazing diversity in the world is controlled by “genetic switches” which instruct these tool kit genes where to act and what to do.

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Comments (0) Jan 08 2011


Being a Minimalist

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The acquisition of material goods doesn’t bring about happiness. In fact I believe the contrary to be true. Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote an article about happiness in the New York Times. She writes:

TravelSuitcase

New studies of consumption and happiness show that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses. Current research suggests that, unlike consumption of material goods, spending on leisure and services typically strengthens social bonds, which in turn helps amplify happiness.

One major finding is that spending money for an experience produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money material goods. I would much rather put my money toward concert tickets, French lessons, guitar lessons, science classes, camping trips, and excursions to Europe or other countries. As professor Elizabeth W. Dunn (University of British Columbia) said: If money doesn’t make you happy then you probably aren’t spending it right.” We can reminisce about our experiences. Interestingly, no matter how many less-than-pleasant experiences come with it, we often remember the experience as a whole in a rosy, positive light. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1) Aug 09 2010


A Know-Nothing Nation

Posted under: philosophy, politics, psychology.
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Light, With Intermittant Heat, Likely
Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, January 1, 2010

I have long been disturbed by the sensationalism and bias of the media in our country. I read this article by Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic.

Cohen states:
Media Monkeys

The lines between television news and entertainment haven’t just been blurred; they have been obliterated by a terribly divisive and destructive mix: the cynicism and greed of television executives and the concomitant apathy, ignorance, and lack of curiosity on the part of the American people. Which came first? Even if you argue “the people” and not “the media” it still doesn’t excuse the glee with which television news has embraced the fashionable at the expense of the important.

Our family has not had cable or satellite t.v. for years. We don’t watch television and do not miss it. The only reason our girls know anything about celebrities such as Hannah Montana is through their friends. A copius amount of reality shows and celebrity gossip pervades the airways and consumes the minds and lives of the American people. I constantly hear people discussing the latest shows and can’t imagine wasting my time that way. When Tiger Woods’ “indiscretion” is the top news story for weeks, I know our media has failed us.
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Comments (1) Jan 03 2010


Don’t Be A Litterbug

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Skye's Litter
Today as the girls and I were walking home from the school playground, Skye took it upon herself to pick up trash along the way and find a garbage can in which to dispose of it. I was proud of her for caring about the environment, and also bothered by the negligence and indifference of whomever had left it.

I am stunned that people intentionally throw their garbage on the ground. We do have convenient disposal containers everywhere. It shouldn’t be too difficult to carry a plastic wrapper or beverage container a few feet, or even a block or two. What causes people to litter? Laziness? Carelessness? Apathy?

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Comments (0) Jun 26 2009


Book Review: Predictably Irrational

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I just read a fascinating book called Predictably Irrational by Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT, Dan Ariely. He explores the idea that our irrationality happens the same way again and again. He performs several experiments and examines the way we make decisions, coming up with some interesting findings.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Ariely begins the first chapter by discussing relativity:

There’s one aspect of relativity that trips us up. It’s this: we not only tend to compare things with one another but also tend to focus on comparing things that are easily comparable and avoid comparing things that cannot be compared easily.

He writes that evaluating two houses side by side yields different results than evaluating three: A, B, and a somewhat less appealing version of A. The subpar A makes it easier to decide that A is better–not only better than the similar one, but better than B. The lesser version of A should have no effect on your rating of the other two buildings, but it does.

Most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context. Ariely performed an experiment at MIT in which he selected pairs of photos of random people: one of them physically attractive (A), and the other one noticeably less so (B) in each pair. He then doctored the photo in Photoshop, creating a slightly but noticeably less attractive version of each of them–a decoy (-A and -B). He then approached students, presenting them with three pictures. Some of them had the regular picture (A), the decoy of that picture (-A), and the other regular picture (B). Others had the regular picture (B), the decoy of that picture (-B), and the other regular picture (A).

Whenever I handed out a sheet that had a regular picture, its inferior version, and another regular picture, the participants preferred the regular person–the one who was similar, but clearly superior, to its distorted version over the other, undistorted person on the sheet. This was not just a close call; it happened 75 percent of the time.

Humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We don’t have an internal value meter that tells us how much things are worth. Rather, we focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly.

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Comments (3) Jun 14 2009