More reviews from Amazon readers … This one from H.F. Gibbard
This has to be the most readable book about how the mind works that I have picked up in ages. There is not a dull chapter in the book, and the writing at times reaches a level worthy of a good novel. The ideas explored are fascinating.
“The Hidden Brain” is the part of our mind that is not ordinarily accessible to our consciousness through introspection. In other words, we don’t know that it is there, and can’t detect it just by thinking about it. But it controls many things that we do, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Vedantam concludes that it developed in human beings to promote survival under primitive conditions, and is still performing its functions today, whether they are appropriate to our current circumstances or not.
This is not entirely new. Freud and Jung both believed in powerful unconscious forces. Science fiction thrives on the idea of “monsters from the id” set loose by some alien technology. What makes this book worth reading is the way Vedantam brings current research on these topics to life. He starts with the simple and mundane, like a study that showed that pictures of staring eyes near an “honor system” coffee pot reduced employee theft. Then he turns to a case study of a woman with frontotemporal dementia, a horrifying condition that causes people to lose their social inhibitions without knowing what they’ve lost. He describes studies that demonstrate the reality of unconscious race and gender bias, even in people who would abhor such behavior at a conscious level. With consummate skill he draws us into the events of 9/11 and shows how our unconscious bias in favor of group consensus led to unnecessary deaths among its victims. He also shows the other side of the story: how peer pressure motivates suicide bombers and others who commit horrible acts like 9/11. The writing is of a quality rarely seen in a book of this type.
In the end, I wasn’t sure I was persuaded that the hidden brain is quite as intractable and mysterious as Vedantam makes it out to be. The whole point of many psychological and religious techniques is to make the unconscious conscious, and I think people can have some success at this. Vedantam doesn’t blame anybody for the things their hidden brain makes them do, but I think some people are more mentally lazy and willing to indulge their unconscious biases than others. Plus, I maybe have a little more faith in the role of education in counteracting the hidden brain than he does. But I felt like I learned a lot from this book, even when I disagreed with it.