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August 4th, 2010:

Recommended: How We Decide

I finished How We Decide (by Jonah Lehrer) three weeks ago, and I’ve been remiss in recommending it. The book is about how the human brain works (or doesn’t) and how to take advantage of it. The book is so good that I’m planning to get a copy when I buy my iPad. (I originally checked it out from the library.)

One of Lehrer’s conclusions is that your brain can be thought of as two computers. There’s the one that we’re aware of, that’s maybe as powerful as an old calculator. Its advantage is that it can be directed consciously, so is useful for novel situations and simple decisions (or math). The other one is usually referred to as the emotional brain. It’s like a massively parallel computer that outputs a heuristic: an output that’s good registers as a happy emotion, while an output that’s bad registers as fear or anxiety. It’s good for really complicated decisions (if you spend the time giving it input), but can be overwhelmed by novelty.

Obviously, there’s more to it than that, or Lehrer would not have been able to write a book about it. Read it.

Linkpost: 8/3/2010