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Publisher's Summary

Radical in its implications, this original and important work may change forever the views we hold about the nature of learning. In The Power of Mindful Learning, Ellen Langer uses her innovative theory of mindulness, introduced in her influential earlier book, to dramatically enhance the way we learn. In business, sports, laboratories, or at home, our learning is hobbled by certain antiquated and pervasive misconceptions. In this pithy, liberating, and delightful book she gives us a fresh, new view of learning in the broadest sense. Such familiar notions as delayed gratification, ”the basics”, or even ”right answers”, are all incapacitating myths which Langer explodes one by one. She replaces them with her concept of mindful or conditional learning which she demonstrates, with fascinating examples from her research, to be extraordinarily effective. 

Mindful learning takes place with an awareness of context and of the ever-changing nature of information. Learning without this awareness, as Langer shows convincingly, has severely limited uses and often sets on up for failure. With stunning applications to skills as diverse as paying attention, CPR, investment analysis, psychotherapy, or playing a musical instrument, The Power of Mindful Learning is for all who are curious and intellectually adventurous.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2016 Ellen J. Langer (P)2018 Hachette Audio

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Poor Science and Misleading Presentation, a deeply ideological book

Let me start by saying this book raises some good points. Conditional learning is not done nearly enough in schools, and context does really matter when we learn. Even in physics, the “facts” depend on the underlying model we choose to use, what we decide to ignore and what we decide to focus on.

However, it’s a grossly ideological book, predicated on the idea that all cognitive differences and diseases are simply a consequence of our mindsets. This belief makes it’s crescendo in Chapter 6, when the author called into question the idea of intelligence (even a more nuanced view of multiple kinds of intelligence) because the idea of intelligence presupposes an external reality that can be correctly or incorrectly perceived. Yeah, that’s called physicalism, it’s the basis for all of modern science. Giving up physicalism just to make less-intelligent people feel better would be laughable if it weren’t so pernicious. Especially because she relies on it to actually do science, which she cites as evidence.

Of the science she does present, it’s entirely her own. This would be acceptable *maybe* for an autobiography, but not for a book. As a scientist she should know better. She has a chapter on the importance of novelty and the fact that games are more pleasant than work just because of our mindset, but makes no references to the vast literature on what is now called “gamification”. Doesn’t even say the word. She also wholly misrepresents rote memorization, calling it “overlearning”. Overlearning is a TYPE of memorization, and an ineffective one. Spaced repetition is the modern incarnation of science-backed memorization, and allows for long-term retention with minimal time invested. She makes no mention of the forgetting curve either. When she does talk about her own work, some of the studies are so badly constructed as to be laughable. You can’t overturn 50 years of neuroscience with a sample size of 30 and poorly-controlled experiments across cultures with multiple confounding variables. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t work that way. I don’t care if the author is from Harvard, bad science is still bad science. When you hear hoofbeats (assuming we’re in North America, because as you well know context matters), think horses, not zebras.

Instead of other scientists’ work or real-life examples, she cites fairy tales, primarily the Brothers Grimm, to make her points. These are only weakly connected to the point she is trying to make and their repeated use is questionable at best. All in all, this book is a train wreck of bad science, misrepresentation of existing science, and a few gold nuggets buried here and there. I would not recommend it.