Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review: “You are not so Smart” by David McRaney

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself
By David McRaney
Gotham; Reprint edition (November 6, 2012)

I know I said no more brain books, but this one’s been in the pipe. I’ll make this review short. McRaney in his book goes through 48 ‘brain bugs’ that are shortcomings of human cognition where evolutionary advantageous procedures are inappropriate to present-day situations. Having meanwhile read several books on the topic, I knew about 40 of these brain bugs and the rest are very similar to the ones I already knew.

What I was hoping for in McRaney’s book was some kind of structure, maybe a classification or categories, a big picture – some insight as to how it all ties together or where it’s going and what’s next. But the book is really just a selection of little essays, apparently the result of a blog by the same name, and that’s also what it reads like.

The 48 sections of the book do come with selected references and summaries of research studies that have been made, but a discussion of how well-established any particular result is and if there is maybe contradictory evidence is entirely lacking. Also lacking is space to address the question how these studies relate to behavior in the real world, what the evidence is for this, and, most important, if people change their behavior when being educated about shortcomings in their default mode of thinking.

In summary, the book is an easy read, but it’s not terribly insightful and somewhat uninspired. If you follow the popular cognitive science literature you’ll know pretty much everything that is in the book. The book might be useful for you however if you want to get a quick overview on what topics are presently being discussed in this area, without too much skepticsm or scientific background. Also, the essays all probably make good conversation starters.


Uncle Al said...

Consider Sarbanes-Oxley Kauderwelsch's book Skeuomorphic Communitization Benchmarks. Avoid the three stumbles: accelerator emulation, desire synchronization, and planar chaos. Engage the solace of knowing realization toward major epiphanies.

William Wallace said...

Excellent overview. My only comment is to say that I am delighted to find your blog, which I hope to now read more often.

I am currently enjoying a somewhat raucous discussion regarding probabilities and quantum suicide on an astronomy forum, and I think your caution to stick to observables is a timely reminder.

Lovely family, nice blog. Congrats!

Lisa Milas said...

Had to review this after finishing tonight and finding your blog! I'll say there were a few pages of useful knowledge and insights. However, the holier-than-thou tone, relentless lecturing, and condemning grew very old by chapter 5. Not sure if this was a poor attempt of wit?
After chapter 3, the rest of the book became highly* repetitive, ie: most of his "Misconceptions and Truths" were just reworded with different scenarios. The research that was cited did not seem completely applicable to the bias/theories presented.

This book could have had the potential to successfully inform and explain our methods of behaving/thinking, and maybe how to modify them. However, I'm truly not sure what the author's intended direction was, he seemed very intent on telling us: "YOU THINK, YOU HAVE NO CONTROL, YOU BELIEVE __ BUT YOUR WRONG, ..." Over, and over...and over.

Maybe it was his intention to inform us of being wandering ignoramus' and our behavior and how we think is uncontrollable? If so, this book definitely delivered.