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THE INVISIBLE GORILLA: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us

Editorial Review - Kirkus - Jane Doe

A fascinating look at little-known illusions that greatly affect our daily lives.Chabris (Psychology/Union Coll.) and Simons (Psychology/Univ. of Illinois) won a 2004 Ig Nobel Prize for their widely reported "gorilla experiment," which showed that when people focus on one thing, it's easy to overlook other things—even a woman in a gorilla suit. In their debut, they explore this habit of ... Read full review

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This fantastic book proves that top-flight academics can write in a clear, engaging way, and, more importantly, that the work they're doing is utterly necessary. As they reveal the illusions that inhabit all of our minds, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons manage to strip us of some highly cherished beliefs while offering non-illusory hope. That in and of itself is a mighty trick to pull off.
But The Invisible Gorilla accomplishes so much more. It is the exact opposite of "pop psychology" (the oversimplification of ideas that are associated vaguely with the field of psychology). Rather than diluting science so we all "get it," Chabris and Simons help us think better, more complexly. They never talk down to their readers, and this indicates more than just politeness or an ability to communicate with a broad audience. Instead, The Invisible Gorilla creates an inclusive, enlightened worldview that imagines--in a realistic rather than illusion-based way--a real possibility for dialogue between people with very different political convictions and social backgrounds. The highly compelling and encouraging (although certainly not coddling!) conclusion lets us glimpse a world in which more reliance on the facts, and less flight into illusion, would mean less anger, less condescension, and less danger. Far from showing that our minds are weak, the authors have demonstrated how much we need to turn to the facts--and, in fact, to each other--to corroboration and data-based consensus. The promise of this intensely reality-based book would seem utopian, if it weren't so realistically conveyed.
By making occasional use of personal anecdotes, Chabris and Simons show that the world of hard science can still include anecdote--the things we experience and retell, and recreate in the retelling, are also the stuff of science. In the fascinating and sobering chapter on the "illusion of cause," which (among other things) explains and debunks the popular association between vaccines and autism, the authors state that narrative is more compelling than lists of data gleaned from studies; one person's story moves us in ways that the results of large-scale scientific experiments do not. But by telling the history of their own experiments and discoveries about illusions in such a fascinating and suspenseful way, Simons and Chabris ultimately help preserve a place for narrative within the world of science, and this is perhaps their greatest accomplishment.
Chabris and Simons remind us that the only way to establish the reality behind our illusions is to stop kidding ourselves and run some experiments--and they show us what it means to do that. The Invisible Gorilla gives us access to science, but the fact that Simons and Chabris make it look easy doesn't mean it is. Reading this book, though, you get a sense of what might be possible--if we were as open to fact as we are susceptible to illusion.
 

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