mostly nonfiction listener
"Traffic" freaked me out. I knew that 40,000 people died each year on our roads. And I knew that a car accident was the most likely way that trauma would encroach into my world. Vanderbilt gives me lots more things to worry about (like Dr's have the 2nd highest accident rate, pick-up trucks are dangerous to everyone else, new cars have higher accident rates then older cars, and intersections are bad news for bikers, runners, and drivers.
This is a book I'd like my girls to read as a prerequisite to getting their license (and I'll install the driver cam that Vanderbilt writes about being effective in teaching young drivers defensive skills).
Read the book. Slow down on the roads.
Wray Herbert's engaging On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits has three main messages:
1. Evolved Brains: Our minds (which drive our thoughts, actions, and reactions), are evolved organs, constructed by adaptation over long periods of time to our environments.
2. Brain / Modern-Environment Mismatch: Unfortunately, our brains evolved in very different environments in which we now find ourselves. This leads to our reactions, biases, and thoughts to be too often mismatched and maladapted to circumstances in a 21st century world.
3. Choice with Knowledge: However, if we understand where our immediate reactions and thoughts come from, we can overcome irrational action and make choices that benefit our long-term goals.
Herbert is a journalist, reporting on the academic work of behavioral economists and experimental psychologists. The strength of On Second Thought is the breadth in which psychological and behavioral theory and experimental results are examined. If you are interested in the academic literature on the limits of rational behavior (as I am), then On Second Thought is both an excellent primer and synthesizer.
Dan Ariely covers much of the same ground in Predictably Irrational and the The Upside of Irrationality, but did so in a much more nuanced, intimate, curious and personal manner.
On Second Thought would have been a better book if Herbert had some questions he wanted to answer, or things he wanted to figure out about himself, and was able to weave the research on decision making into a more compelling narrative.
Despite these quibbles, On Second Thought is a worthy addition to our "dumb us" and "getting our minds around our brains" bookshelves.
Fascinating extension of the evolutionary psychology framework. Argues that our brains have evolved in often "klugy" ways, meaning that evolution favors what works (and what comes first) and not what is optimal. I learned a good deal about things like memory, emotions, and perception...and now I know why I can be so dumb sometimes. Well written....a fun read.
Markman lays out some useful strategies for improving your thinking. The tips aren't pulled out of thin air, as they are in some books on the topic; they're based on Markman's research and the research of others in the field.
One important technique is to evaluate your understanding of a topic by trying to explain it to yourself. Be honest in acknowledging where your explanations break down or gloss over a difficulty; then work on those until you *do* get them. (I've seen this suggestion in other contexts, where it's been described as the "Einstein technique," though I'm not really sure how that name came to be associated with it.)
Another important point is to recognize your mind's limitations - not just *your* mind, but *everybody's*. The human brain, according to Markman, can usually only process three distinct features of an experience; so he recommends regularly summarizing what you've learned by listing three main points. With careful selection, it's possible to use those points as triggers to a wider array of knowledge: the brain is like a fishing net, where latching onto one point can lead you to others. (My analogy, not Markman's.)
Markman offers some useful cautions as well. Especially in group settings, it's important to pause before making a final decision: feeling the visceral "click" when smart thinking leads to a breakthrough can be physically pleasurable; but you shouldn't let that glow influence your evaluation of the breakthrough. Wait a couple of days before you act on it.
Sean Pratt is a particularly effective narrator for this kind of material. He's done many titles for Gildan Media, and their titles in the self-development or "science for daily life" area tend to be a cut above the norm.
If you like this book, you may also enjoy "Five Elements of Effective Thinking" by Michael Starbird and Edward Burger. There is some overlap between the books; I found both of them helpful.