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Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Mind (Life Sciences) [Paperback]

Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Oct 1996 Life Sciences
"Fascinating and insightful. . . . I cannot recall a book that has made me think more about the nature of thinking." –– Richard C. Lewontin Harvard University Everyone knows that optical illusions trick us because of the way we see. Now scientists have discovered that cognitive illusions, a set of biases deeply embedded in the human mind, can actually distort the way we think. In Inevitable Illusions, distinguished cognitive researcher Massimo Piattelli–Palmarini takes us on a provocative, challenging, and thoroughly entertaining exploration of the games our minds play. He opens the doors onto the newly charted realm of the cognitive unconscious to reveal the full range of illusions, showing how they inhibit our ability to reason––no matter what our educational background or IQ. Inevitable Illusions is stimulating, eye–opening food for thought.


Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey Bass; New Ed edition (1 Oct 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047115962X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471159629
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 16 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 415,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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From the Back Cover

"Fascinating and insightful. . . . I cannot recall a book that has made me think more about the nature of thinking." — Richard C. Lewontin Harvard University Everyone knows that optical illusions trick us because of the way we see. Now scientists have discovered that cognitive illusions, a set of biases deeply embedded in the human mind, can actually distort the way we think. In Inevitable Illusions, distinguished cognitive researcher Massimo Piattelli–Palmarini takes us on a provocative, challenging, and thoroughly entertaining exploration of the games our minds play. He opens the doors onto the newly charted realm of the cognitive unconscious to reveal the full range of illusions, showing how they inhibit our ability to reason—no matter what our educational background or IQ. Inevitable Illusions is stimulating, eye–opening food for thought.

About the Author

MASSIMO PIATTELLI–PALMARINI, Ph.D., is a Principal Research Associate of the Center for Cognitive Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Director of the Department of Cognitive Science at the Institute of San Raffaele in Milan, Italy. His books The Will to Study and the Italian edition of Inevitable Illusions were international bestsellers.

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First Sentence
St. Louis, Missouri, can be proud of possessing the largest optical illusion ever created by the hand of man. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but disappointing... 27 Mar 2007
Format:Paperback
I found this book to be somewhat disappointing. It differed from my expectations first of all by not being, in itself, a good model of clear thinking. The author meanders through his topic at a leisurely pace and uses a good proportion of the start of his book making a case for how important its conclusions are but without yet revealing what they might be - hardly a promising approach. By the time the 'illusions' mentioned in the title are discussed the reader is disappointed to find that rather than being examples of everyday thinking missing the mark they consist of a number of examples where intuitive thinking diverges from the predictions of bayesian probability calculations. Hardly the shocking revelations we are lead to expect by the introduction. As the book continues a few more interesting observations are made about illogical biases in cognition but the emphasis still remains heavily on divergence from mathematical probability.

The total number of observations about the tendencies of human thinking away from objective rational logic are in fact only a few in number and I was left with the feeling that this could have been adequately set out in a magazine article rather than over the length of an entire book. Combined with the amount of verbiage dedicated to arguing for the importance of these few observations it leaves the impression of a somewhat exploitative approach to the reader - hype.

The final chapter of the book contains a discussion of other authors objections to the ideas and despite the authors' intentions to the contrary I was left with the impression that these were generally valid and did indeed undermine the significance of the rest of the book.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Packed with Knowledge! 3 Oct 2005
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
"Let the thinker beware" could be the motto for this excellent and very useful book. Author Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini has done a masterful job of arraying some of the most serious and most commonplace errors of judgment, estimation and deduction. The style is mostly straightforward, if academic, and makes the meat of the book's message accessible to the general reader. One quibble is that the author's explanation of certain probability calculations (especially Bayes' theorem) leaves them less clear than they could be. That aside, we give this book the highest recommendation, especially for those who like to consider how people understand their world. If you are devoted to clear thinking, you could practically use it to conduct a daily scrutiny of your mental processes - an examination of cognition similar to the monastic examination of conscience - to identify and correct any inclinations to serious cognitive sin.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By oldhasbeen VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There's some quite interesting material in this book, but I'm surprised it gets full marks from some reviewers. If I could, I might stretch to giving it 2 and a half stars but no more.

Starting with some positives, it does illustrate a number of "mental tunnels" into which it's easy to be trapped and gives the reader some food for thought. These vary from optical illusions, illogical thinking, distortions from framing of choices and probability illusions and miscellany in a rather odd chapter entitled "The Seven Deadly sins" - I did find a few illogicalities I've been guilty of in this chapter.

There are, however, a number of negatives, Firstly it's not well written. It is a translated book, and it reads like one - very verbose, and clarity is not one of its strong points. Take, for example, this explanation of Baye's Theorem: "the probability that a hypothesis (in particular, a diagnosis) is correct, given the test, is equal to: the probability of the outcome of the test (or verification), given the hypothesis (this is a sort of inverse calculation with respect to the end we are seeking), multiplied by the probability of the hypothesis in an absolute sense (...) and divided by the probability of the outcome of the test in an absolute sense (....)" This has all the clarity of a strategy announcement by Donald Rumsfeld! Have a look at Wikipedia for a much better explanation.

A couple of the example problems and solutions he gives made no sense to me even when I'd re-read them twice! Overall, I have to agree with S. Bergemann's comment that this book isn't a very good model of clear thinking (!)

Secondly, I don't think the author delivers the great revelations the introduction leads us to expect. Some of the examples are well-known, e.g.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting topic. Less interesting book. 18 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback
I have to agree with G Brooks. The general premise of the book was interesting and it certainly made me think, but it was pretty poorly written at times. Many of the examples were either trivial, or ones that I've seen countless times elsewhere - I doubt that many people are still unaware of the Monty Hall problem for example. There were also a few places, particularly in his rather aggressive attacks on his critics, where his arguments seemed to have rather gaping holes in them, or were badly explained.

This would probably be a good book for a discussion group, as I regularly found myself wanting to question the author on one aspect or other, but was quite a frustrating read on my own.
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