The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us

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Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony, May 18, 2010 - Psychology - 288 pages
4 Reviews
Reading this book will make you less sure of yourself—and that’s a good thing. In The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, creators of one of psychology’s most famous experiments, use remarkable stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to demonstrate an important truth: Our minds don’t work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we’re actually missing a whole lot.
Chabris and Simons combine the work of other researchers with their own findings on attention, perception, memory, and reasoning to reveal how faulty intuitions often get us into trouble. In the process, they explain:
• Why a company would spend billions to launch a product that its own analysts know will fail
• How a police officer could run right past a brutal assault without seeing it
• Why award-winning movies are full of editing mistakes
• What criminals have in common with chess masters
• Why measles and other childhood diseases are making a comeback
• Why money managers could learn a lot from weather forecasters
Again and again, we think we experience and understand the world as it is, but our thoughts are beset by everyday illusions. We write traffic laws and build criminal cases on the assumption that people will notice when something unusual happens right in front of them. We’re sure we know where we were on 9/11, falsely believing that vivid memories are seared into our minds with perfect fidelity. And as a society, we spend billions on devices to train our brains because we’re continually tempted by the lure of quick fixes and effortless self-improvement.
The Invisible Gorilla reveals the myriad ways that our intuitions can deceive us, but it’s much more than a catalog of human failings. Chabris and Simons explain why we succumb to these everyday illusions and what we can do to inoculate ourselves against their effects. Ultimately, the book provides a kind of x-ray vision into our own minds, making it possible to pierce the veil of illusions that clouds our thoughts and to think clearly for perhaps the first time.

From the Hardcover edition.

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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.


Have in Common
Should You Be More Like a Weather Forecaster
lumpingto Conclusions
The Myth of Intuition
Index 291

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About the author (2010)

CHRISTOPHER CHABRIS and DANIEL SIMONS are cognitive psychologists who have each received accolades for their research on a wide range of topics. Their “Gorillas in Our Midst” study reveals the dark side of our ability to pay attention and has quickly become one of the best-known experiments in all of psychology; it inspired a stage play and was even discussed by characters on C.S.I. Chabris, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard, is a psychology professor at Union College in New York. Simons, who received his Ph.D. from Cornell, is a psychology professor at the University of Illinois.

From the Hardcover edition.

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