8/10/2012

Subliminal: You Aren't in the Driver's Seat

I recently reviewed a book, Subliminal, over at Science 2.0, which is posted below. What is always interesting to me is the reaction that my various essays will garner. Sometimes, there's no reaction--which suggests that I've pissed no one off enough that they want to directly engage me (some will go on and write their own deconstructions of my posts but do it in such a way as to apparently try to avoid triggering my attention, while others will make it easy for me to know they've disagreed with me). Other times, I'll get comments I can't really make heads or tails of. Sometimes I don't respond. Sometimes I do.


What is highly interesting is that on a review of a book that deals with our unconscious mind and how it has far more control of us than we'd like to think, is that I get comments that leave me stymied. I encourage you to go over and read the comments after you've read the piece. Is this a book I'd encourage reading of? Yes, it is. It's well written, it's easily understandable, it's interesting, and it's important. Incredibly important.


And now, to the essay itself:


In the last year, I've had the occasion to review several books that deal with the unconscious mind. Each author has had an interesting take on the same material, and it's been illuminating to see how writers with different areas of expertise handle the unconscious mind and render the research readable for a popular audience.

Leonard Mlodinow is a name many science readers will recognize as belonging with physics, not psychology and neuroscience. His handling of this topic, which has been handled by EaglemanMcRae, Shermer, and others in the last couple years, is skillful and entertaining.

Mlodinow's turn of phrase is masterful and he covers the latest research in neuroscience and how much of our actions are controlled not by our conscious mind, but by our unconscious. He notes that "our brains are made up of a collection of many modules that work in parallel, with complex interactions, most of which operate outside of our consciousness. As a consequence, the real reasons behind our judgments, feelings, and behavior can surprise us."

Subliminal is full of surprises for the average reader and offers gems that would change the world if only enough people believed the information to be true: "We believe that when we choose a laptop or a laundry detergent, plan a vacation, pic,k a stock, take a job, assess a sports star, make a friend, judge a stranger, and even fall in love, we understand the principal factors that influenced us. Very often nothing could be further from the truth. As a result, many of our basic assumptions about ourselves, and society, are false." Mlodinow takes readers through the research carefully and masterfully and leaves readers changed by the experience (well, we can hope).

Mlodinow writes that "We choose the facts that we want to believe." While we instinctively insist this is true of others, we are usually resolute that we are free from this kind of error. If we want to really revolutionize our relationships, and as a consequence, society, we're going to have to disseminate the latest in neuroscience to the masses, and then somehow find a way to accept that we are vulnerable to the same quirks and foibles as everyone else--maybe we'll learn to let the past go, accept that people do things for no conscious reason, and even better, as parents, we'll finally get how utterly pointless it is to ask our children why they did something.

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