Saturday, September 19, 2009

How We Decide - by Jonah Lehrer

"How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer finally became available at the library (long-long hold list) and I read it over the past few days. I'd requested it so long ago that I forgot about it. I remember seeing the author on C-Span book-TV and must've requested the book and am very glad I did.

"How We Decide" is a popular science book that attempts to summarize many recent neurological experiments that highlight new findings about BRAIN function, coordination, strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and ultimately how we arrive at decisions incorporating input from all the different parts of our brain.

It's full of stories about poker (getting reads on other players), consumer decisions (like buying a car, buying a house, buying jam, using credit cards, how we're manipulated by marketers and retailers), military decisions, airline emergency scenarios, quarterback decisions, stock market bubbles and crashes, rationalization, creativity, autism, and many others.

Key concepts.
- The author and the studies presented attack the prevailing conventional wisdom that humans are primarily rational decision makers. If anything, the research utilizing real-time brain scans seems to indicate that our older emotional brains often make decisions before we're aware of it, and then our conscious mind tends to rationalize those decisions "after the fact".
- The author sees the subconscious and older emotional brain centers as a highly powerful computer that picks and considers alot of things that our conscious mind is unaware of. There's alot of power our "gut" feeling about things - and often if we try to rationalize our gut instinct we end up making more mistakes than just going with our initial impressions.
- There are significant limitations to our conscious rational mind (prefrontal cortex)- and it's far more limited than we realize. It's a small part of the brain's mass and it's really best at coordinating the work of the unconscious mind. (Some of the discussions/research reminds me of the futility of multitasking when we see how small stresses on our conscious mind degrade functionality and decision capacity).

Anyhow - this is an excellent book. The best read I've had in a long time. One of the few books I come across that isn't "padded" with fluff. When it was finished I was actually wishing there was more. There are lots of "Wow!" and "Aha" moments in reading through. I'm going to check out his other books.

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