Verified
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

David Loeff's musings on books and other topics

Let the buyer beware

Everything King Midas touched turned to gold. Amazon has the same touch. However once something's touched it's no longer useful, no matter how bright and shiny it becomes.

 

Amazon now sells more books than anyone else. They sell other things as well. People visit big box stores to view merchandise and then they buy it from Amazon. This forces retailers to change how they do business. It's change or die. Huge bookseller, Borders, failed to change quickly and went out of business.

Amazon owns the majority of the eBook trade partly because it made it easy for writers to self-publish. This has been a boon to writers, but also an obstacle. They must play Amazon's game or not play at all. Like all games, the odds in this one favors the house rather than the player. Amazon's subsidiary, CreateSpace, makes it easy to publish paperbacks, but provides no path to getting those books into stores. Bookstores don't stock them because CreateSpace doesn't won't allow unsold merchandise to be returned like traditional publishers do. And now those traditional publishers are facing new difficulties.

 

After hurting traditional publishers and retailors, Amazon has opened its first bookstore in Seattle. Mom and Pop bookstores are already struggling or failing; there's no way they can compete against Amazon's superior data and pricing. Amazon is becoming an invisible monopoly unnoticed by government watchdogs. Today it's only one store, but that could change tomorrow. My advice: Don't shop there. It's a trap.

Reblogged
Four books, twelve categories! (for Recommend Away)
Saga, Volume 1 - Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples Sabriel - Garth Nix Swordspoint - Ellen Kushner Three Parts Dead - Max Gladstone

Graphic Novel and Set in a Time of War and A Love Story

 

I got into graphic novels late and am trying to catch up with all the awesomeness that is out there, so my recommendation for these would be the various volumes of Saga. This is space opera and romance and all around fantastic writing and art by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan, with three or four volumes already out and more to come.

 

Female Main Character and By an Author Who's Written Over 5 Books and Young Adult Book

 

For these categories, I'm going to recommend Sabriel by Garth Nix, though pretty much anything in that series is great. It's about magic to protect the living from the dead, fantastic animal sidekicks and realistic relationships.

 

Male Main Character and Fantasy in General and Includes Sword/Knife Fighting

 

It has to be Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, which is one of her novels set in a place called Tremontaine. Our hero, Richard de Vier, makes a living by being a professional duellist and ends up in a relationship with a wayward and somewhat-suicidal scholar with a secret.

 

Debut Book of Any Author and Diverse Books and Published After 2010

 

For these categories, I'm going to go with Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, though the sequels (set in the same universe but not necessarily featuring the same characters) are also awesome. This is a world where accountancy and the law are magic and the gods are dead or defeated, those gods also having a strong MesoAmerican flavour. Highly recommended!

Reblogged from Grac's Never-ending TBR Pile of Doom
Review
3 Stars
Armageddon, anyone?
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch - Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman

According to the bit in the back of the book, this novel has become a "cult classic" since its publication. The book's sales rank on Amazon supports this claim. I haven't read any of Pratchett's books, but I've read a few by Gaiman. I didn't like this one as well as those.

 

Gaiman has a talent for taking mythological themes and making them believable. But this book is more of a farce, and as such, it failed to suspend my disbelief. This story, like others by Gaiman, draws from mythology, but unlike American Gods, the mythology isn't Norse, African, or Hindu, but Christian, and that will offend some, or at least cause discomfort. Believers don't like to see their beliefs treated like myths.

 

Good Omens is about a friendship between a demon and an angel. Neither sees any sense in a war between Heaven and Hell and prefer to thwart, rather than assist during Armageddon. Crowley, the demon, and Aziraphale, the angel, have lived amidst humanity for so long that they no longer see things in such black and white terms as pure good or evil. They no longer fit in with the bureaucrats of Heaven and Hell. Unfortunately their sophisticated viewpoint isn't universal; satirizing conventional behavior just doesn't work for me.

 

I find no humor in society's increasing polarization of beliefs and attitudes, in the absence of dialog between left and right, religious and secular, rich and poor. Envisioning Heaven and Hell populated by rigid thinking, bureaucratic zealots simply doesn't amuse me. The world is full of such people already and their numbers are steadily increasing. Maybe Armageddon is coming after all, and that's just not funny.

Review
4 Stars
Interpreting fairy tales and myths
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales - Bruno Bettelheim

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales

Bruno Bettelheim

Non-fiction 328 pages

Vintage Books, 1989, 1976

 

If you’ve taken courses on fiction writing or literature, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell introduced this concept in his 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell, a popularizer of mythology, drew upon themes from Jungian psychology in his structural analysis of hero myths.

 

Child Psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, while acknowledging Jung’s contributions, used a more Freudian approach in his analysis of fairy tales. Although there’s some degree of similarity between Bettelheim’s later and Campbell’s earlier work, Bettelheim makes no mention of Campbell.

 

Bettelheim is careful to point out, however, that fairy tales are not like myths. They serve different audiences and functions. Myths end in tragedy while fairy tales end happily. Fairy tales allow children to integrate id impulses with their developing egos. Myths, instead, are the voices of the superego. They moralize, while fairy tales allow their hearers to form their own conclusions.

 

Referring to Hercules having to choose between two women, one representing virtue and the other pleasure, Bettelheim says, “The fairy tale never confronts us so directly, or tells us outright how we must choose. Instead, the fairy tale helps children to develop the desire for a higher consciousness through what is implied in the story. The fairy tale convinces through the appeal it makes to our imagination and the attractive outcome of events, which entice us.”

 

He later elaborates, “Myths project an ideal personality acting on the basis of superego demands, while fairy tales depict an ego integration which allows for appropriate satisfaction of id desires. This difference accounts for the contrast between the pervasive pessimism of myths and the essential optimism of fairy tales.” I don’t agree entirely. Star Wars is often cited as an example of the hero’s journey. That movie ended happily rather than in tragedy. While Oedipus is certainly a tragedy, I’m not convinced that all myths must be pessimistic.

 

Bettelheim’s approach is primarily Freudian. As such, his interpretations deal with orality, sexuality, sibling rivalry, and the child’s sense of impotence. Campbell’s myth interpretation draws from the Jungian perspective. As such, it minimizes the importance of id, ego, and superego and emphasizes Jungian personality structures such as self, shadow and anima. Since the passing of Freud and Jung, neuroscience has identified many structures in the brain, however none are identical to those structures named by Jung and Freud. Nonetheless, those elusive structures remain useful for understanding both human personality and literature.

 

Review
4 Stars
Dashed hopes
Extra Sensory: The Science and Pseudoscience of Telepathy and Other Powers of the Mind - Brian Clegg

If you’re looking for proof of psi phenomena you won’t find it here. Instead, you’ll read a history of poorly designed research and questionable results. This is interesting in itself as an explanation of what constitutes good experimental design and what doesn’t. Although the author describes several theoretical mechanisms that could explain psi phenomena, he also notes that only minimal evidence supports its existence.

 

In his conclusion, Brian Clegg notes, “… coming at this with an open mind while frankly wishing that ESP did exist, I have to conclude that the existing experiments have demonstrated nothing more than coincidence, artifacts of the experimental design, misunderstanding, and fraud.”

 

Another physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, became a good friend of psychiatrist, C. G. Jung. The two collaborated together on a book with each contributing a section. In Jung’s section, the psychiatrist describes what he calls synchronicity, a phenomena consisting of meaningful coincidences, and considered to be an acausal connecting principal. Pauli himself experienced a type of synchronicity as the jocularly known Pauli Effect. Reputedly equipment malfunctioned whenever Pauli entered a laboratory in response to the Pauli effect. Jung’s synchronicity as well as Pauli’s Effect is largely based on anecdotal evidence and not achievable in a laboratory as a significant percent of correct guesses regarding the next cards in a deck.

 

Clegg feels that current methods of testing psi phenomena will never produce significant results. “What the researchers seem to have totally forgotten is that they are attempting to verify the validity of hundreds of years of anecdotal evidence. … Real-world ESP is not about small statistical variations; it is about clear, specific communication.”

To see or not to see
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

I saw Ender’s Game last night and liked it better than most movies I’ve seen recently. When it was initially released, many people boycotted it because of author, Orson Scott Card’s, reputation as a homophobe. I, too, didn’t see this movie in the theatre. I waited to borrow a copy from the library, not so much in protest, but more to save the ticket price.

 

Afterward I thought about some of Card’s novels. Pederasty is a recurring theme in his work and it made me wonder why Card writes so much about it. Card hasn't said, but as a fiction writer, I get curious about such things.

 

According to Salon, Card believes most homosexuality is a result of “a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse.” In other words, it’s caused by pedophiles. Card isn’t the first person to believe that homosexuals prey upon the young. However, one article claims, “The number of Americans who believe the myth that gay people are child molesters has declined substantially.” In 1970 more than 70 percent of survey respondents believed this. Today fewer than 20 percent do.

 

Frequently, molesters of boys have no interest in men. And many molesters of both female and male children have never had sexual relations with other adults. Clearly, pedophilia and homosexuality are not equivalent. One important difference is that homosexuals partner through mutual choice whereas children, lacking adult coping skills, are more readily persuaded, or coerced, to cooperate with adult sexual predators. One must assume that molested children are victims, not willing participants.

 

Card is mistaken about the cause of homosexuality, yet he’s not the first writer to be wrong about an issue. Regardless of Card’s personal beliefs, Ender’s Game, and some of its sequels, are excellent books. On the other hand, I probably won’t be reading his novella, Hamlet’s Father, about a king who molests the male youth of his court. As in all things, you kinda got to pick and choose.

Review
5 Stars
The Peripheral - William Gibson goes back to the future
The Peripheral - William Gibson

 

The first pages will test you. William Gibson drops word after word of future slang, explaining none of it. I didn’t form a clear picture of what was happening in the story until I’d read two thirds of it. That can be frustrating for some readers, intriguing for others.

 

Some science fiction writers do their world building with info dumps disguised as prologues, or with long-winded explanations stuffed into dialogues. Some writers simply abandon their plots while pausing to provide back story. Gibson uses none of these devices. His world building occurs gradually and in context. By the time a character explains an element of his world, the reader has already assembled most of the information, and the explanation confirms the accuracy of his suspicions.

 

Gibson abandoned cyberpunk when the cyberspace of the web developed in a manner unlike the cyberspace of his imagination. The present-time based novels preceding The Peripheral aren’t cyberpunk. Yet even without the cyberpunk milieu, Gibson manages to put current technology to unique and futuristic uses. In The Peripheral, he returns to cyberpunk in futures that are both fresh and firmly rooted in present trends.

The two futures he presents diverged from one another, yet information can pass between the two via a server in an undisclosed location. That may sound farfetched, but Gibson makes it work, teasing the reader with hints, as he gradually unfolds his story. His style of story construction may tax some readers’ patience. They should stick with other authors. But if you’re a fan of the slow reveal, you’ll like this book.

Review
4.5 Stars
Gravity - Bet you fall for it too

Books like this don’t have happy endings. In fact, they don’t have proper endings at all. They begin with questions and end with even more questions. I like to read them anyway.

 

Clegg begins with history: What were the earliest notions of gravity and how did they evolve? When people think of gravity they often think of Isaac Newton, but the idea of gravity had precedents in ancient Greek thought. Later, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and others elaborated on the ideas that later influenced Newton. Then in the twentieth century, Albert Einstein introduced an entirely new framework for understanding gravity.

 

About the time Einstein was tackling gravity, other scientists were developing quantum physics. Now a new problem arose. Einstein’s gravity is very good at explaining the behavior of large objects like stars and planets, while quantum physics can account for the behavior of small objects like atoms and particles. However, the two theories don’t play well with each other.

 

In the latter half of the twentieth century string theory was developed as a means of unifying the two theories. String theory, however, introduces a number of unanswerable questions.  Clegg discusses several newer theories that may help resolve the problems of string theory. One of these was inspired by graphene, a one atom thick layer of graphite. When graphene is cooled to an extreme temperature, it appears to violate the rules of special relativity. Peter Horava wondered about the implications of this finding. Einstein gave us the concept of space-time. Horava’s theory break space and time apart again. By doing so, he is able to make general relativity and quantum physics work together.

 

All of the recently emerging theories will require further research. Gravity, being the weakest of the four forces has remained elusive. Gravitons have been hypothesized, yet never found.

Interstellar Problems

 

I won't be seeing Interstellar. I have my reasons. Although, physicist, Kip Thorne, was consulted regarding the science presented in this movie, Hollywood still managed to fudge the science. Fiction involves suspension of disbelief and Hollywood suspends disbelief all too well. Much current science fiction, both written and staged, sadly lacks substantially accurate science.

 

Using a black hole as a short cut through space is not a new idea, but that doesn’t make it any less unlikely. Should you enter a black hole feet first, you’d find that the mass within is so great that your feet would begin to stretch. By the time your head entered as well, you’d be stretched like a strand of spaghetti. Not to mention, crushed.

 

But Interstellar’s black hole is no ordinary one; it’s a gateway into a wormhole. Although no one has found evidence of wormholes, they are thought to be quite narrow—too narrow for spaceships, or even feet, to pass through. Even if you found one large enough to allow your passage, they are also thought to be unstable. The wormhole might disappear long before your ship arrives at its door.

 

Another physicist, Michio Kaku, has classified possible alien societies by their degree of technical savvy. Our society falls well short of having sufficient technical ability to control wormholes. More conventional space travel falls closer to our current abilities. But, Interstellar requires a wormhole in order to reach another galaxy. The only problem there is that wormholes don’t necessarily lead to other galaxies. Instead, they could lead elsewhere, perhaps to other universes.

 

More: http://truthtalltales.blogspot.com/2014/11/galaxy-jest.html#links

Review
5 Stars
Thanks for all the fish
Saving Fish from Drowning - Amy Tan

The relationship between mothers and daughters is a theme frequently associated with Amy Tan’s writing. In Saving Fish from Drowning she barely touches on this theme, leaving room to explore several new themes.

 

After sampling some of the book’s reviews on Amazon, I concluded that more than a few of her fans rejected the book for exploring new territory. That’s foolish. The book is excellent on its own merits; it shouldn’t be faulted for not following the path of its predecessors.

 

If it places less emphasis on the relationships of mothers and daughters, it places more on that between fathers and sons, citizens and governments, religious beliefs and superstitions, honest folk and swindlers. This novel addresses a number of themes, and addresses them well.

 

According to Andrew Solomon in his 2005 New York Times review, Tan’s apparent emphasis on humor is unsuccessful. It didn’t make him laugh. However it did make me laugh, and if her satire is not as biting as that of Evelyn Waugh, it is gentle and considerate of natural foibles. Solomon says Tan's characters sorties into political incorrectness …” are “obnoxious and even colonialist …” But that’s unfair. Traces of colonialism, do linger on. Even in Star Trek, the crew of the Enterprise bends the prime directive so often as to make it clear that those traces will linger well into the future.

 

Tan understands and elucidates the cultures from which her characters derive. If at times her characters seem foolish, it’s because they are. She’s not being judgmental, merely observant like a good anthropologist. The narrator, Bibi Chen isn’t perfect. Neither are her characters. And if this gives rise to humor, so be it—laugh and learn.

 

Green Island—relaxing springs, grueling prisons

Zhaori Saltwater Hot SpringsTo get to Green Island you can take a plane or boat from the Taiwan mainland at Taitung. It takes about 40 minutes by boat. Several of the passengers in my group felt nauseous from the choppiness of the ride. I felt fine.

After we arrived on Green Island most chose to take the diving tour,. I rode the glass bottom boat with my oldest nephew. After dinner and a bit of souvenir shopping, we bedded down early. In the morning we would watch the sunrise from Zhaori Saltwater Hot Springs.

We rode our rented scooters in quiet darkness half-way around the tiny island to the hot springs. There was a brief wait to enter the resort since a popular activity on Green Island is watching the sunrise from Zhaori Saltwater Hot Springs.

According to its website, Green Island is one of only three places on Earth where saltwater hot springs are found. We bathed in all three of the seaside pools, enjoying their different levels of warmth and salinity. Although there were many of us bathing in the pre-dawn light, people spoke quietly and I felt at peace.

The sunrise was spectacular, just enough cloud cover to ensure a richness of colors.

Before leaving Green Island, we visited its Human Rights Culture Park, parts of which formerly housed political prisoners. Opened in 2001, the park commemorates the many years Taiwan spent under martial law, and the many voices suppressed during that period.

Not invited. Sigh

Jeff Bezos did not invite me to Campfire which takes place in Santa Fe this weekend. I'm wondering if it's because of my stance in the feud between Amazon and publisher, Hachette. Unlike Bezos, I feel that Hachette should continue to sell it's eBooks for over ten bucks. Hopefully that will enable indies like myself to sell more cheaply priced eBooks.

 

And speaking of more cheaply priced, I've temporarily dropped the price of 1,001 Lightyears Entertainments to under a buck.

 

You can get your copy here:

Kindle USA http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I76ROOY

Kindle UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00I76ROOY

Kindle Canada https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00I76ROOY

 

 

 

Mind or Mechanism?
Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives - Mario Beauregard

Brain Wars : the scientific battle over the existence of the mind and the proof that will change the way we live our lives

Mario Beauregard

Non-fiction 250 pages

HarperOne. 2012

 

Mario Beauregard introduces his book stating that, according to materialist science only the brain exists; that mind, soul, and consciousness are ephemera produced by the brain and as such, cannot exist independently of the brain. The Cartesian model of brain/mind dualism is false. Only the brain exists, nothing more.

 

This is essentially the view taken by several materialist theories. The author argues, however, that none of these theories provide a satisfactory answers to what David Chalmers calls the “hard problem “of consciousness which ponders how experience arises from brain processes.

 

Chalmers is a philosopher. I am not. I wonder if subjective experience isn’t just another ephemera produced by the brain. On the other hand, my subjective experience seems real enough that I wonder if those who question the materialist view are correct after all. Beauregard claims that, “multiple lines of hard evidence show that mental events do exist and can significantly influence the functioning of our brains and bodies. They also show that our minds can affect events occurring outside the confines of our bodies, and that we can access consciously transcendent realms—even when the brain is apparently not functioning.”

 

I’m not sure that I buy the first of Beauregard’s premises, that mental events exist and can influence body and brain. In the first chapter, “The Power of Belief to Cure or Kill” he shows how Voodoo can kill and placebos can cure. But how does this refute the materialists? Why can’t mental events and beliefs be products of the brain, and therefore ephemera?

 

In his sixth chapter, Beauregard cites psychic (or psi) phenomena such as extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis as evidence that consciousness exists apart from the brain. Since psi phenomena are non-local, how can they be produced by a local mechanism such as the brain? Although Beauregard’s argument has become more compelling, I am still inclined to reject it.

 

Many skeptics reject the existence of psi phenomena. However, Beauregard and others make a compelling case for its reality. Although early psychic researchers were sometimes taken in by charlatans, contemporary researchers use more rigorous methods. Using sophisticated procedures to insure accuracy, they still achieve results that are highly unlikely to be due to chance.

 

Today, it is not the psychic researchers but the skeptics who are biased. Psi is an established fact. However, the fact that it occurs does not mean that it occurs frequently and dependably. It remains a rare human experience. Does it prove that consciousness can exist independently of the brain? I don’t think so. People have claimed to pick up radio stations through the filings in their teeth. Perhaps the brain occasionally acts like a radio and picks up non-local information. That wouldn’t prove that consciousness exists apart from the brain. 

 

In his seventh chapter, Beauregard makes his most persuasive point. If consciousness is merely a phenomena of the brain, how is it that people report being conscious during near death experiences? More remarkably, how is it that they report such vivid experiences when their brains are working at greatly reduced capacities?

 

Other books have addressed these questions. One such book, “The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist’s Search for the God Experience”, examines near death experiences (NDEs) in great detail. Author, Kevin Nelson neatly explains all the phenomena associated with NDEs as products of the brain responding to particular conditions. Although he dissects each phenomena thoroughly, his cumulative explanations do not adequately explain the detailed and complex narratives that some people have reported after returning from the brink of death.

 

It is because NDE narratives can be so complex and detailed that I am inclined to think that diminished brain function can only explain the grosser aspects of NDEs and not their details. However, other factors may be involved. Perhaps in some cases NDE memories are simple confabulations, false memories invented by troubled brains to explain what they can’t understand. 

 

Beauregard presents several very compelling cases of NDEs. One such is the case of Pam Reynolds. Prior to brain surgery she was chilled to a point of near-death. Blood no longer pumped through her brain.  Her eyes were taped shut, yet she reported observing her operation while outside her body. Is this a case of invented memory, or did it actually occur? If so, does this proof that consciousness exists independently of the brain?

 

For his final arguments, Beauregard looks toward mysticism and quantum physics. In 1976, biomedical researcher and atheist, Dr. Allan Smith had a life changing mystical experience while observing a sunset. While NDEs are often reported after body and brain trauma, there was no apparent cause for Dr. Smith’s experience. Throughout history people have had mystical experiences in which they perceive themselves to be one with everything and no longer confined by a mortal human existence. Psychiatrist, Richard Maurice Bucke, gave the phenomena a name. He called it Cosmic Consciousness.

 

Early in its development, quantum mechanics encountered a problem—one that remains a mystery to this day. The problem is this: the act of observation influences the phenomena that is observed. Scientists have attempted to explain this in a number of ways, but never to everyone’s satisfaction.

 

Some people claim that consciousness affects external phenomena, yet this is only one way of viewing the interconnectedness of observers with observations. It may be that the human mind lacks sufficient language or logic to understand the reality. It may be that the theory of quantum mechanics is missing an undiscovered piece. This is what Einstein thought.

 

Einstein knew that quantum mechanics allowed for the possibility of entangled particles. These are particles that mirror each other, seemingly instantly and at any distance. Einstein and his two collaborators wrote that because non-locality, or “spooky action at a distance” isn’t possible, then something must be missing from quantum mechanics.
Einstein was wrong. During the final years of the 20th century, non-locality was proven to exist. The implication of non-locality is that everything is connected and indivisible. That means the mystics are correct. Each of us is indeed one with everything. Consciousness is not dependent on the brain.

 

Yet countless books on neuroscience make it plainly clear that if certain regions of the brain are damaged, then profound changes in personality emerge. The same can be said for changes in sense perceptions, speech, mobility, etc. How then, can it be said that consciousness does not depend on the brain?

 

Books like this, as well as those which attempt to prove an opposite view, often fail to define consciousness in a thorough manner. An initial omission of definition flaws the ensuing discussion. Whether consciousness is ephemera produced by brains, or whether it is non-local and nondependent on brains, is a question that can’t be resolved until we agree on just what consciousness is. 

Review
5 Stars
Who are those three women, really?
The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman

During my college years, I briefly encountered the White Goddess. She is a triple being--maiden, mother and crone. The three women in this novel depict her perfectly. In fact, this novel is full of myth. However, it touches upon astrophysics as well. Magic happens here, or is that only tricks of memory? For memory is not dependable, nor do people remain the same throughout their lives although they think they do. Read the book. You’ll see what I mean.

Tit for Tat

Amazon has been in a dispute with Hachette for some weeks. Today Amazon mass emailed its Kindle authors. The missive is lengthy, however its central message is that Hachette would sell more eBooks if they lowered their prices and that Amazon was trying to persuade them to do so. At the message’s conclusion, Amazon requests that its authors email Hachette in support of its goals.

 

I won’t be emailing Hachette and this is why: 1) basic economic principles suggest that if Hachette continues to sell high priced eBook, then I should sell more copies of my lower priced ones. 2) As an independent author, I don’t much care about what goes on between Amazon and major publishers. 3) Amazon grants more favorable terms to its major publishers than it does to its indies. For example, a major publisher can work out an agreement with Amazon to pre-sell a book before its release date. I don’t have the same bargaining power.

 

Bottom line, until Amazon decides to do more to help its indie authors promote their books, I see no reason to do them any favors. 

URL
Just who are you really?
The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives - Shankar Vedantam

 Maybe you think you’re reasonable. Shankar Vedantam thinks maybe your're not. In the book, The HIdden Brain, he explores how we often think we're making rational decisions—when in fact, we are following our unconscious biases.

 

Vedantam's term “hidden brain” describes mental processes which affect our behavior without our conscious awareness of their influence. These result from errors in attention and memory; mental shortcuts we form and follow; relationships and social dynamics.

In some cases, it’s possible to train ourselves to identify and become aware of these hidden influences. In other cases, the influences remain hidden. American society however operates as if human behavior is primarily based on reason.

 

Vedantam presents an example involving a rape conviction based on false identification. The woman, who identified the wrong man as her rapist, became convinced of his guilt while she was praying in church. Initially uncertain, her doubts dissolved in the safety of her church.

 

Emotions can affect our memories and convictions — and that’s what happened in this case. After DNA evidence had proved his innocence, the woman met the man. Upon meeting him, the first thing she noticed convinced her that she’d been wrong.

 

Vedantam discusses how social scientists test for racial bias—and find it even among those who claim to be unprejudiced. We believe we live in a fair society, yet experimental evidence shows that people tend to recommend the harshest penalties to those whose skin is darkest.

 

Sexual bias is common as well. Transgender individuals report receiving greater respect and higher salaries when they change from women to men. The opposite is reported by those who change from men to women.

 

Our “hidden brain” is useful because it helps us make decisions quickly. However, those decisions are not always correct. By becoming more aware about how the hidden brain works, we can begin to make better decisions both as individuals and as societies.

 

Read longer review