on 25 July 2012
I really enjoyed this book having come to it merely because I had been fooled by the gorilla video. The authors take you through a series of important areas which admittedly are really interesting to an old medic like myself. However the lessons are important for us all and I urge people to read this book.
on 17 April 2012
The Invisible Gorilla is a book that illustrates how frustratingly inept the human brain can be. The book examines various studies which show that the brain doesn't always work as we would wish. It shows us that we cannot always rely on our memories or even what we think we have observed. If you are someone who has an unshakable belief in the power of 'common sense' you may change your mind after reading this book! I think this book will appeal to many people. Firstly, to people who would like to find out more about psychology and science, but are intimidated by academic books. This book is very accessible and is an enjoyable read. Secondly, it will appeal to fans of writers such as Richard Wiseman. Thirdly, it will appeal to skeptics who are interested in issues such as the MMR vaccine debacle.
on 29 June 2012
I picked this up at an airport on a recent trip and could hardly tear myself away.
I "knew" so many of the stories in there - they are often re-hashed in popular psychology. But this is the place to go to get the original and the best.
I love that the authors can make report on real, solid experiments - and make it accessible to the lay reader. And so much of what is in there is shcking - how we don't really see what we think we see (the famous gorilla experiment!) and we don't remember what we think we remember.
If you're at all interested in how the mind works I highly recommend this book!
on 7 April 2014
Although not technically self-help, this book does have some interesting cross-over concepts which I think could be useful to those looking at how attention, memory etc works.
This book is a very scientific look at the seven ‘illusions’ we succumb to in our thinking, why and how it happens, the research taken and what we can and can’t do about it.
The seven illusions are; attention, memory, confidence, cause, potential, knowledge and intuition. The name Invisible Gorilla comes from the study done regarding attention – where participants were asked to count the number of ball passes by players in a video, often not noticing that someone dressed in a gorilla suit walked amongst the players.
I did think this book very interesting up to a point but it did go into too much techno-speak at times. I found it slightly ironic stating most people don’t pay attention to facts and figures, abstract data or future research, in a book that is filled with exactly that! It also refers to neuro-babble and brain-porn, explaining how it’s not so great, but then the authors use it themselves…
I wouldn’t consider myself to be overly scientifically minded but the results of some of the research studies discussed made me wonder how much is actually subjective interpretation, seeing what they wanted to see. I also thought it odd to make several critical comments about the work and books of Malcolm Gladwell, and then thank him in the acknowledgements.
If you’re at all curious about the topics covered, check it out – but don’t let it close your mind.
(Reviewed by TheSelfHelpDiet.co.uk)
on 22 September 2012
This book title is taken from the fascinating work as illustrated on [...] which is definitely a must see. This book explores the myths and mechanisms behind how the mind is tricked and misled. It has its basis in a PhD thesis, but has been worked into an easy to read, captivating and thought provoking elaboration. Thoroughly recommended.
This is one of the most shocking books I have ever read, but anyone who is called as a witness or to serve as a juror in a court case, or who drives a car or flies an aircraft, should be required to read it.
In one of the "Father Brown" stories G.K. Chesterton had his clerical sleuth solve a murder committed by a "mentally invisible man" - a postman who all the witnesses ignored because they tuned him out of their perceptions - he was just a postman.
This book demonstrates how, to a truly frightening extent, we make that kind of mistake far more often than we realise.
The book starts with an account of how a Boston policeman, Kenny Conley, was sent to jail for perjury and obstruction of justice: Conley, who was white, was one of a number of officers converging on a murder suspect from different directions. The suspect attempted to evade pursuit by climbing a fence. The closest police officer, who like the suspect is african-american and who was wearing plain clothes, attempted to apprehend the suspect while he was climbing the fence, but fell, and was then himself attacked and assaulted by several uniformed white police officers who apparently mistook their colleague for the suspect. Conley climbed the fence in hot pursuit of the suspect within yards of where this beating was taking place, pursued him for a mile, and did in fact arrest the suspect who all the officers involved had been pursuing.
When there was an inquiry into the assault on the plainclothes cop, Conley claimed on oath not to have seen the beating. When it was established that he had in fact passed very near to that incident, neither prosecutors nor the jury could believe that he was not lying to protect his fellow officers.
After Conley's release from jail a Boston journalist, Dick Lehr, who had originally been of the same opinion, brought Conley to see the authors of the book, because he had begun to have second thoughts about whether Conley might have been so focussed on the suspected criminal that he failed to notice an assault taking place almost under his nose.
The authors produce a huge amount of convincing evidence that most of us make exactly that kind of mistake on a frighteningly regular basis, even when we sometimes put our lives at risk or may vote to send innocent people to jail in consequence. When we are focussed on observing one thing, we can sometimes miss other events, some of which might be serious threats, to a greater extent than we might think possible. And worse, we don't realise we have missed them: we can't believe we could have been looking right at something and fail to see it.
The title of the book is taken from the "Gorillas in our midst" experiment which the authors had made: they found that when a group of test subjects is set to watch a film of a basketball game and carry out some moderately attention-demanding task such as count the number of passes in the game, about 50% of them will not even notice if a person in a gorilla suit walks through the basketball court, faces the camera, beats her chest, and walks on.
If you are having trouble believing this, put the words "The Invisible Gorilla" into an internet search engine and look at the website for this book, where there is a version of the gorilla video and some similar tests and material which does not take long to view and is utterly convincing.
But when the experiment was first performed, those who didn't notice were not just shocked at what they had missed: when they were shown the film again they were so convinced that what they had not noticed before could not have been there that they accused the experimenters of switching the tape.
A very important part of this book for those of us who drive is the section on how our failure to notice things can put us at increased risk of accidents, and this book changed my opinion on the reasons for the accident rates for cyclists and riders of motorbikes.
Until I read "The Invisible Gorilla" I was aware of the high accident rate involving motorbikes but believed that the main reason for this was the propensity of some motorbike riders to drive in a more risky way. After reading this book I was compelled to modify my views and recognise that some of the increased accident rate for motorbikes may be down to car drivers' mistakes, particularly a failure to spot motorbikes when the drivers concerned thought they were looking out for other traffic but were really focussed on looking for cars and lorries.
This book is an incredibly useful study, written in accessible and entertaining language, into the way our minds and perceptions focus on the things we think we need to know, so that we are not swamped by all the potential observations which surround us every waking moment, but how this can sometimes lead us to ignore things we really need to notice. And not to notice that we have done so.
As pop-psychology books go 'The Invisible Gorilla and
Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us' is an interesting
and at times frightening read. To some degree boffins
Professor Chabris (Union College New York) and Professor
Simons (University Of Illinois) are not telling us
something which (intuitively) we don't already know :
Attention and intuition are highly contingent mechanisms.
They reveal through their detailed but highly entertaining
narrative that we do not always know what we see or see what
we know. The human mind is an invention a of infinite limitations.
As a man who cannot sometimes see his favorite brand of
chicken stock cubes on a supermarket shelf (they have a
distinctive yellow box which hasn't changed in hue for
certainly more than half my lifetime!) even though I am
staring right at them, this book had spectacular relevance.
The examples are sometimes funny. Their titular experiment,
demonstrating that under certain conditions even a man dressed
in a gorilla suit may not be visible, elucidates their thesis
in a light and breezy way. When life and limb are at stake,
however, the implications become much darker and give us pause
for thought. The example of a guidewire for an intravenous line
being left inside a patient (unnoticed by several "competent"
doctors and radiologists on 3 x-rays and a CT scan) and which
could have led to a woman's death (luckily it was noticed on
her fifth day of her admission) it truly terrifying!
That they come to the conclusion that intuition is largely a
"myth" (I had always thought it was just another word among many)
is rather sad in some ways. That our senses sometimes deceive us
is inevitable. What we thought we knew about perception and
judgement, however, are clearly not as well-grounded in reality
as we had previously believed.
I was pleased to read that the authors received the 2004
Ig Noble Prize in Psychology (The organisation rewards
scientific achievements which "celebrate the unusual, honour the
imaginative - and spur people's interest in science, medicine and
technology") for this engaging work.
It is justly deserved.
A book to excercise the mind with the additional power to
make us look (and think) twice at what we think we know.
on 28 January 2011
Looking is necessary for seeing but not sufficient. This sounds like the familiar idea that only connoisseurs can truly "see" the beauty of a work of art. Appreciation of art, however, can be taught, aesthetic judgement cultivated. The error of perception behind the title of this highly readable and thoroughly referenced book is rather less amenable to education. Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons begin with a legal case which turned upon just what a Boston police officer did or didn't see in the aftermath of a shooting. They then describe their own classic experiment on inattentional blindness. This mix of real life and laboratory work sets the tone for the whole book, rightly so, because this is the kind of science that has implications for almost every aspect of our lives, from the justice system to how we bring up our children.
Being blind means having a damaged visual system, but you can be perfectly healthy and still inattentionally blind. And because "we lack positive evidence for our lack of attention" we don't even recognize that we have a problem. This "is the basis of the illusion of attention" and the gorilla study strikingly illustrates the powerful and pervasive nature of the illusion. We "experience far less of our visual world than we think we do".
Not seeing gorillas in a laboratory setting is one thing. Failing to see the child who runs in front of your car is quite another. If we're distracted, perhaps by a mobile phone conversation, attentional resources are being diverted from the road ahead, and the chances of noticing the unexpected worsen. Driving and talking "both draw upon the mind's limited stock of attention resources" and thinking we can do both successfully is again the illusion of attention.
This illusion is perfectly normal, and is "a consequence of the way attention works". Given our limited cognitive resources, our minds have evolved the exceptionally useful ability to screen out thousands of irrelevant details in our environment in order to focus more effectively on the salient details.
Chabris and Simons don't stop with the illusion of attention. There's plenty more where that came from. The illusion of memory - "the disconnect between how we think memory works and how it actually works" - is next in line. It's tempting to think that memories are like photographs or videos of events we have experienced, and to explain forgetfulness in terms of a failure of access to those stored records. What is stored in memory, however, "is not an exact replica of reality, but a re-creation of it" and, moreover, memory depends "both on what actually happened and on how we made sense of what happened".
It's difficult to overstate the importance of the illusion of memory, of how easy it is to "induce false memories" and "literally revise history" while at the same time remaining confident in the accuracy of our memories. The rich details we remember are quite often wrong, but they feel right, especially since we often use "vividness and emotionality as an indicator of accuracy". Chabris and Simons discuss a case where eyewitness memory played a crucial part in convicting an innocent man, and such cases are by no means isolated.
The broader implications for our culture are wide ranging. For example, although beyond the scope of this book, a question that interests me is how the illusion of memory might have influenced the creation of the gospels. How accurate are they as a record of historical events, given the unreliable nature of eyewitness testimony, the difficulty of forming and holding accurate memories, the need to re-create these memories each time the story is retold, the long time between the supposed events and the eventual writing down of the stories, and the involvement at each and every stage of a fallible human mind capable of getting things wrong while believing the truth is being told?
Chabris and Simons wisely steer clear of such speculation: there's more than enough material for them to deal with as it is. As well as illusions of attention and memory, we are subject to illusions of confidence (we think we're more skilled than we are), knowledge (we think we know more than we do) and potential (we think there are reservoirs of untapped mental ability in our brains). Some people, of course, are actually highly skilled or more knowledgeable than average, but the authors remind us that experts are no better than ordinary novices in situations where they have no special skill. Their expertise "lies not in greater attention, but in more precise expectations formed by their experience and training".
Even the beliefs and expectations of experts, however, can lead them to perceive a pattern where none exists. Dr Andrew Wakefield was a credible authority when he first brought to public attention the supposed link between vaccines and autism. (The link is illusory; in fact, there's not even a correlation, let alone a causal link.) The illusion of cause was responsible for his mistake. There are three major contributions - pattern, correlation and chronology - and all three converged in this case. Wakefield saw a cluster of autism cases, that these children had been vaccinated, and that the symptoms developed after vaccination. He then drew his now infamous inference, that MMR "causes" autism.
A more careful scientist would have realized that no such conclusion could possibly be drawn from such a small sample, that there was possibly not even an association, and that further research was certainly needed. A scientist who had read this book would not have called a press conference and triggered a media storm that was to last years and spread unnecessary fear of vaccination. A journalist who had read this book would not have reported the story without asking some searching questions. Finally, a mother of a vulnerable child who had read this book would have been able to arrive at a more informed conclusion about the risks involved.
on 15 June 2010
Pop psychology books - don't you just love `em? Well, not usually. You see I have a major issue with psychology itself: in my opinion it isn't a `proper' science at all - so much of it is pure quackery and supposition. But, I will admit that as a subject it can be interesting at times.
The main problem I have with this volume is it presents us with lessons in what Basil Fawlty would've called the "bl**ding obvious".
For instance, the first 'revelation' it offers (the famous 'invisible gorilla' experiment itself) is that people are less likely to notice something if they're not looking out for it. To which I respond `You don't say!?' However, it does get better and it marshals some of its arguments quite well - which is why I've given it three rather than two stars.
Although it's refreshingly free of psychobabble, by the same token the language feels as if it's been dumbed-down to reach a wider (i.e. more lucrative) audience. And the authors throw in copious footnotes designed to give it a veneer of academic respectability.
If you need to have often basic reasoning hammered down your throat then you may appreciate this book. If you're intelligent and can work things out for yourself, then you'll probably find it rather tedious and obvious at times. Myself, I fall into the latter camp, but I must confess it was still a decent enough read overall.
on 20 February 2011
Christoper Chabris and Daniel Simons wonderful book ''The invisible Gorilla'' is all about how our intuition deceives us. The book has its name from the authors ''basketball experiment'', where people fail to recognize a Gorilla in their midst.
Indeed, our brains routinely plays tricks on us! Sure, we may think we experience and understand the world around us. But actually, often, we can miss the gorilla standing right in front of us! When we assume there should be no gorilla in front of us, we tend not to see any gorillas, even if they are there...
The authors gorilla experiment is a brilliant illustration that looking is not necessarily seeing. But there are a myriad of other illusions out there. The ''gorillas'' are lurking everywhere.
We are hardwired to edit our perceptions and memories, to misinterpret evidence and jump to conclusions. And as information are hurled at us from all sides in todays world, the book's key message is that we think our mental abilities and capacities are greater than they really are. Important stuff. And brilliantly presented in this book.