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Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives | [Dean Buonomano]

Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives

With its trillions of connections, the human brain is more beautiful and complex than anything we could ever build, but it’s far from perfect: our memory is unreliable; we can’t multiply large sums in our heads; advertising manipulates our judgment; we tend to distrust people who are different from us; supernatural beliefs and superstitions are hard to shake; we prefer instant gratification to long-term gain; and what we presume to be rational decisions are often anything but.
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Publisher's Summary

A lively, surprising tour of our mental glitches and how they arise.

With its trillions of connections, the human brain is more beautiful and complex than anything we could ever build, but it’s far from perfect: our memory is unreliable; we can’t multiply large sums in our heads; advertising manipulates our judgment; we tend to distrust people who are different from us; supernatural beliefs and superstitions are hard to shake; we prefer instant gratification to long-term gain; and what we presume to be rational decisions are often anything but. Drawing on striking examples and fascinating studies, neuroscientist Dean Buonomano illuminates the causes and consequences of these “bugs” in terms of the brain’s innermost workings and their evolutionary purposes. He then goes one step further, examining how our brains function—and malfunction—in the digital, predator-free, information-saturated, special-effects-addled world that we have built for ourselves. Along the way, Brain Bugs gives us the tools to hone our cognitive strengths while recognizing our inherent weaknesses.

Download the accompanying reference guide.

©2011 Dean Buonomano (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

“Intriguing take on behavioral economics, marketing, and human foibles.” (Kirkus Reviews)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Sean BELVEDERE TIBURON, CA, United States 09-03-11
    Sean BELVEDERE TIBURON, CA, United States 09-03-11 Member Since 2009
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    "Superficial, but mostly correct"

    If you have no scientific background and are unfamiliar with the quirks of cognitive biases, then this book can give you a good introduction to the topic. The author gives a brief, superficial tour of many areas of cognitive study, but doesn't explore any of them enough to satisfy a reader who has any familiarity with the subject. If you are familiar with the terms "neuron", "bias" and "conditioning" you will probably want a different book.

    He discusses our fear bias, various heuristics and some basic evolutionary biology. His style is scatter shot and he seems to wander from topic to topic without much structure. More annoyingly, he gets halfway through certain chapters and says "maybe this isn't really a bug because it mostly works OK."

    Other books do a better job discussing the topics touched on in this book. For an evolutionary biology perspective try "The Accidental Mind," for a cognitive psychology point of view read "How We Decide" or "The Blank Slate", for a behavioral perspective "Mistakes Were Made", for an in depth discussion of fear "The Science of Fear."

    I would recommend this to someone looking for a brief introduction to our brain's quirks, but the book will likely leave even the casual reader wanting more.

    49 of 49 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brett SEATTLE, WA, United States 11-22-11
    Brett SEATTLE, WA, United States 11-22-11
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    "Not for the casual curious listener"

    I saw and heard a couple interviews with this author which made the book sound interesting, but after listening, I can not recommend it. The only audience that might find it truly interesting is a first or second year college student considering psychology or neurology- it seems to read like a very general cliffs notes of past studies in these fields.

    After slogging through the early chapters of studies, facts, and details, I expected to be rewarded with some practical examples of brain bugs in modern society and how to defeat them. Instead, all the book seemed to do was sum up with "the human brain hasn't evolved, so some tasks aren't easy, and, uh, that's that."

    I've never been inspired to write a negative review of a book until now. I don't disagree with the author; I just feel like the book read like a wikipedia entry- there are some background facts and figures and there are a couple juicy ideas that some contributor started writing about, but then became bored and let them die on the page. The interviews with the author had me really excited to read the book, but he left the fun and excitement out of the actual text for some reason.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Williamsville, NY, United States 09-19-11
    Michael Williamsville, NY, United States 09-19-11 Member Since 2001
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    "Interesting, though a little political at times"

    I love the material presented in this book; the details about how the brain works down to the level of neurons was fascinating. My only complaint is that the author sometimes got too political. For example: implying that supporting certain presidential candidates is considered a "brain bug". Even if I may happen to agree with you on those particular candidates, there is no need for that kind of stuff in a book like this. All it does is cheapen the otherwise very compelling arguments.

    Ironically, for an author who seems to abhor religion, his political remarks make him sound downright preachy.

    Still a worthwhile listen, but it could have been so much better.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    12-08-13
    12-08-13 Listener Since 2009
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    "Intersting subject but"

    the delivery was so boring that I still haven't been able to get through the entire book.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scot Potts Pueblo, CO United States 07-10-13
    Scot Potts Pueblo, CO United States 07-10-13 Member Since 2005
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    "Engaging tour of the highlights of neuroscience"

    This book investigates structural and procedural aspects of thought, imposed as evolutionary solutions to selection pressures. Problems with memory, both accuracy and quantity, problems making accurate judgements of time, problems with disproportionate and distorting influence of fear, and problems with reasoning in which our intuitions conflict with what we can establish to be true by more rigorous statistical thinking are areas which are discussed. The neurobiologic mechanism underlying these problem areas is laid out and then the "bugs" which follow from the evolutionary solutions are examined.

    An example of the difficulties which arise in the attempt to use the brain for thinking rationally is rooted in the use of association for understanding the deluge of data each brain is presented with on a daily basis. Association works well to correlate a red color with a poisonous plant, less well to serve our own interests when it associates promise of sexual fulfillment with a cigarette brand, a make of car, a perfume fragrance, or a particular type of underwear, as a result of some advertisement. The book examines how these faults are capitalized on by advertisers and purveyors of political propaganda in order to sell us goods or to capture our vote.

    A chapter on the human propensity to believe in supernatural causes provides thought provoking associations between the fallacies to which the brain is prone based on its neural hardware and beliefs in supernatural entities. By reading other reviews of this book, it is clear that a large number of people don't want this particular box opened and peered into. In all fairness, the data in this regard is far from conclusive. Moreover, Buonomano paints with a pretty broad brush in parts of this chapter, making several arguments which will only appeal to those who already agree with his viewpoint. On the other hand, he reviews several scientific hypotheses for why belief in a deity is such a common feature of human society.

    Science is based on examining evidence and determining causal or likely correlations within this data. Ideally this is followed by testing an hypothesis in an experimental setting in which confounding variables are controlled for, thus allowing for a test of correlation or causation. As the belief in the presence of a god is based on faith, it falls outside of the realm of what can be investigated by methods of science. One question science can ask is why, in absence of compelling evidence for a God or gods in the external world, does this belief so commonly exist in human brains. Several thought provoking hypotheses are reviewed. Unfortunately, creating a controlled experiment to test these hypotheses is difficult to come by, short of creating an experimental earth complete with craggy fjords overseen by hyperintelligent pandimensional beings with the manifestation, in the human dimension, of mice.

    A weakness of the book is the short chapter at the end of the book on avoiding the inherent limitations of the brain. Essentially he recommends scepticism and common sense. Fair enough as far as that goes, but one could expect a little more directed and helpful analysis.

    This is my main criticism of this book: its lack of a more cohesive, comprehensive argument, particularly in the last two chapters. But that is not the aim. This is a quick, engaging, easily digested examination of the highlights of neuroscience and applications to areas pertinent to daily life, and in that regard it is successful.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    A.J. UNION CITY, CA, United States 10-20-12
    A.J. UNION CITY, CA, United States 10-20-12 Member Since 2005

    I am an avid reader of several genres, but Mystery/Suspense is my favorite. I also churn through quite a bit of non-fiction.

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    "Fascinating look at the evolution of the human min"
    What did you love best about Brain Bugs?

    The way Buonomano revealed the layers of human thought processes was fascinating. I was so surprised to find the myriad ways in which we are not the rational beings we would like to think we are. I am glad to be made aware of how often my emotional little lizard-brain takes control and runs roughshod over my rational frontal lobe processes. Being made aware of how I often make unaware decisions can only enhance my functioning as a critically-thinking, rational human being.


    How could the performance have been better?

    The narration by William Hughes was a bit disappointing--and at times it was downright ANNOYING! I'm not sure who is most to blame for the quality of the final recording: 1) Hughes, who mispronounces words often enough to grate the nerves badly and throw off the flow of the recording (pronouncing "amalgam" as "AM-uhl-GAM," rather than "Uh-MAL-guhm" and stating that our high-tech devices have "silicone" chips, rather than "silicon" chips. These were among some of the more egregious mispronunciations.)--OR--2) The people who edited this production, who must ALSO have been unaware of these mistakes and mispronunciations and their distracting nature.


    Any additional comments?

    While the voice of the narrator was pleasant enough, he should not be employed to narrate audiobooks on scientific topics again. I know that most audiobooks are narrated by trained actors, as they are normally best at capturing the feel, the emotional weight, of the pieces they are reading. This is not, however, a good fit for works of non-fiction--especially works regarding science. Generally speaking, most actors have little background in the hard sciences. Perhaps the producers of audiobooks on scientific subjects might seek out notable exceptions to this, such as Dr. Mayim Bialik, who is a neuroscientist, but who has worked as an actress since childhood. Certainly, she is a rare bird, but perhaps there are other happy mediums between trained actors and persons with backgrounds in science.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Crissman MIDLAND, MI, United States 09-08-11
    Crissman MIDLAND, MI, United States 09-08-11 Member Since 2009

    dirtpo

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    "Understanding the world through the human brain"

    Buonomano shows us how the human brain, evolved in a world very different from the present, is maladapted in many ways to deal with modernity. It offers both a collective excuse -- normal human brains are all poor at remembering names -- and a call to educate ourselves on the internal sources of our irrational fears, foibles, and beliefs. He doesn't shrink from the big issues, politics and religion, and explains how our brains' shortcomings have shaped our society. I found the book fascinating -- one of those books that gives one a new and clearer lens on the world, and you really can't ask for more than that.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hai San Jose, CA, United States 08-26-11
    Hai San Jose, CA, United States 08-26-11 Member Since 2009
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    "Cool title, but not much new research"

    I was interested in the book, because the author was on NPR. After going through it, I was not too impressed. The book covered topics that have been discussed in other brain books and I felt that the author needed to do his research more thoroughly. In the last chapters, he talked too arrogantly about the topic of religion and people’s spirituality.

    If you're interest in how the brain works, a better book would be: The Brain that Changes itself by Norman Doidge". That one, I would give 4+stars. That author is actually a MD talking about the brain.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Acteon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 07-02-14
    Acteon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 07-02-14 Member Since 2009

    Acteon

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    "A very worthwhile book"
    If you could sum up Brain Bugs in three words, what would they be?

    Stimulating, illuminating, enriching


    What did you like best about this story?

    As some reviews have pointed out, this book presents a lot of research that are by now fairly well-known, without adding much that is new. However, I disagree with the view that one would do better to read certain other books, which though good (or better in some ways) yet do not make this one superfluous (unless you have an exceptional memory that retains most of what you read, AND are able to synthesize it). Brain Bugs is indeed what one might call an introductory level book, but I (who had read quite a few books on the subject so that much of the material was not "new") found that it presents things in its own light and thereby gave additional meaning to them. Because of some of the negative comments here, I hesitated a long time before buying the book (finally did only because it was on a BOGO sale), but having listened to it, I would be more than willing to pay full price. What brain research has uncovered is germane to so many essential aspects of life that I am happy to go over it more than once and to try to find as many pertinent angles as possible.

    I was particularly stimulated by the author's reflections on religion and politics, and on our real-life relationship to these.


    What does William Hughes bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    William Hughes has a pleasant voice and an energetic, interested way of reading. I hardly noticed the mispronunciation of words that bothered another reviewer, and was on the whole entirely satisfied. I won't give him five stars, but four and a half if that were an option.


    Any additional comments?

    I strongly disagree with those who object to the book because of its political bias. I can find nothing that anybody looking at things from an objective, scientific viewpoint would contest. You may not follow the author all the way in some of what he suggests (always on the basis of scientific discoveries and not in a purely speculative way), but the topics he broaches and sheds considerable light on are those of the greatest importance: political behaviour, spiritual experience, religious tradition. And I found the author's reflections extremely stimulating.

    A terrific book that I almost missed because of a few negative reviewers. I urge you not to be misled as I almost was!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Oak Park, IL, United States 12-03-12
    John Oak Park, IL, United States 12-03-12 Member Since 2008
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    "interesting information, easy reading style"

    "Brain Bugs" is an excellent combination of interesting information and an easy and enjoyable reading style.

    It is rare to find authors with such clear-headed ideas and with the ability to explain the ideas to the reader in a simultaneously efficient and understandable manner.

    The narration perfectly suited the material.

    John Christmas, author of "Democracy Society"

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • J
    Reading, United Kingdom
    9/30/11
    Overall
    "Very interesting book covering a lot in good detai"

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book finding its coverage of this topic very good, the details just right. It brings together information on how our brains work, and what problems this causes for us, the brain bugs.

    Very good read for any one wanting to get overall understanding of the brain, how it works and what issues that causes us.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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