Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer
|Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer
|Category: Popular Science
|Reviewer: Zoe Morris
|Summary: Hunches, gut feelings, intuition. From how a baseball player catches a ball to why incest is wrong to why people do or not donate organs, this is an accessible book on a fascinating subject.
|Date: August 2007
|Publisher: Allen Lane
Gerd Gigerenzer is a pretty cool name. And this guy works at a pretty cool place, the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. Where, apparently, he leads a team who spend their days thinking about thinking. That's pretty darn cool. And in this book, Gigerenzer takes his work from the last 30 odd years and translates the heavy academic discourse into a lay person's guide to the theory of decision making based on hunches or instinct.
Have you ever wondered why sometimes you know what to do, without quite knowing why you want to do it? Or why you can systematically write down the pros and cons of two options, and then discount the resulting winner because the other option "just feels right"? This book can tell you why you do it, and why it's not a bad thing to go with your gut feeling at times.
The book is nothing if not varied. It touches on linguistics, artificial intelligence psychology, logic, biology, the legal system, relationships, healthcare, economics, branding and advertising, evolution and sociology. The text is interspersed with diagrams, case studies and worked examples that illustrate how the theories being proposed really do work. I found that I could pick out several areas especially of interest to my current job and educational background, but even themes I had no real knowledge of proved interesting and intriguing. The beauty of the topic here is that it applies to all of us in one way or another, so whatever your background, you can relate to the concepts.
This isn't a book that tells you how to think, or how to act, but it does explain why people think and act in the ways they do, and the benefits of such actions. It explains the rationale behind decisions that can seem strange to the rational mind (e.g.: your child is very sick but you choose to bypass the nearest available doctor and drive to one further away instead) and looks at common concepts such as 'tit for tat'.
There were some things I didn't think were wonderful, or especially useful (the odd diagram seemed more for the sake of breaking up the page than for any illustrative or explanatory reason, for example) but on the whole I thought this was a really intriguing book. I read it straight through while lying on a beach which is quite rare for me when something is not pink on the outside and chick lit-y on the inside. I think it's testament to the author that I found this so easy to read, accessible and engaging. While a doddle to read in terms of style, the subject matter itself is nicely challenging as it makes you think about things you have taken for granted for your life thus far. I also appreciated the international context of the book - the author is German and has lived in the USA, but this book isn't tilted to either of these countries, and even the section on health was, surprisingly, quite applicable even to British readers.
A similarly educational-while-entertaining non-fiction read is Richistan while those with a specific interest in Psychology might also appreciate In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind.
Thank you to the publishers, Penguin, for supplying this book.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer at Amazon.com.
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The gist reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, which was rather disappointing, but this sounds better.