The disturbing reality of how our brain works

>> Thursday, June 24, 2010

I'm back!  The family and I made our yearly trip back to Mississippi to visit family, eat fresh stuff that is a long way from being in season here, and reconnect with our Southern roots.  While traveling, I had an opportunity to read a book that had been provided to me through a book reviewer program.  (They provide the books, I provide the opinion.)  I found the book to be fascinating, so I hope that you'll indulge me as I give you my review!

The Invisible Gorilla:  And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.

Are you the type of person that notices and reliably remembers little details?  Are you a good multitasker?  Do you have vivid, detailed memories of events in your past?  Are you an excellent driver even while talking on the phone?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, this book will rock your world.  Chabris and Simons break down these misconceptions to show how single-tasked our brain is and how malleable our memory and perception are.

The title comes from a psychology experiment that the authors performed.  They filmed a basketball game using their students as actors/players.  They then asked volunteers to count in their heads the number of passes made by players of one team while ignoring the passes of the other team.  Halfway through the one minute video, an actor in a gorilla suit came to the center of the screen in the video, thumped her chest, and then walked away.  The gorilla was on screen for a full 9 seconds.  After watching the video, they interviewed the volunteers and asked them, among other things, whether they noticed anything unusual in the film.  Half of the volunteers didn't notice the gorilla at all!  This kind of single-minded attention - when we are so focused on the task at hand (in this case, counting passes) that we miss things we think we couldn't possibly miss - is shown to be anything but unusual.

This book is not a textbook, but rather an intriguing and entertaining exploration of how the mind does (or doesn't) work through anecdotes that illustrate scientific studies.  I found it to be a quick and somewhat disturbing read.  I don't like to think of my memory as an ever-changing kaleidoscope.  I like to think that I'm decent at multitasking.  I'd like to hope that all of those people driving around and talking on phones - hands free or not - really can react the way they need to.  Reality and current research, however, don't support these misconceptions I have about myself and others.

Don't read it expecting answers on how to change the way you think to overcome these limitations of our brain.  Instead, this book makes you recognize your limitations, and by recognizing these limitations of our brains we can perhaps approach the information constantly streaming at us and adjust how we interpret it. 

Many thanks to PTA Interactive for providing the book for review.  All opinions expressed are my own.


Lisa June 25, 2010 at 9:44 PM  

I am going to have to get this book! I have told my students time and time again that the brain just cant focus on two things at once.

I tell them you are focusing on one and autopiloting on the other. Maybe I can get some good ideas on how to show them

Amy June 26, 2010 at 6:02 AM  

I love books like this!! I'll see if my library has it.

Lori June 26, 2010 at 7:46 AM  

This book sounds great. I just love reading about experiements like this. My ability to multi-task has seemed to decrease in recent years. I find I'm much more productive taking things one at a time.

I've never been a fan of cell phones in cars. I've answered and made a quick call before, but now I usually don't even answer it. Sadly, people have created lifestyles around it and made it a necessity. I think the whole driving, talking, texting ability is a complete myth. I know people think they can do it, but I believe the human mind is incapable. They just don't realize the mistakes they are making while doing so.
Sounds like I should read the book, right? :)

viagra online January 24, 2012 at 6:12 AM  

Maybe the most strange book i've ever read in my whole life, highly recommendable for everyone.

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