Monday, March 30, 2009

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide is what I wish every book about science could be. Lehrer approaches a complicated topic and makes it understandable without losing nuance. In How We Decide, Lehrer explains the latest discoveries in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics in order to tease out some insights on how we make decisions, and how those decisions can be improved.

Lehrer begins each chapter with a riveting story about a very difficult decision. He then explains what science has to say about the decision. Generally, it appears that we have two different brain mechanisms for making decisions, our emotional system and our logical system. Each is located in different portions of the brain, and with new techniques like fMRI, scientists can actually watch these areas of our brains as we make decisions. Lehrer investigates each system and discusses the relative merits and weaknesses of each, ending up with some clear recommendations on how each of us can make better decisions.

  • Simple problems require reason, or the use of our logical system.

  • Novel problems also require reason.

  • Embrace uncertainty

  • You know more than you know.

  • Think about thinking. (Metacognition)

I would highly recommend this book for the riveting stories alone. But, I think Lehrer does really provide some important insights on how we can make better decisions. The most enlightening one being the last in the list above. If you are more mindful of how you make decisions, you will make better ones.


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