Saturday, April 5, 2014

Subliminal, by Leonard Mlodinow

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Leonard Mlodinow explains how we may think we're rational creatures, in charge of every decision we make, but that the reality is we are propelled by our deeper, unconscious brain.

Do you think you’re in control of your life and are a rational decision maker? Leonard Mlodinow’s Subliminal: The New Unconscious and What It Teaches Us is here to tell you you’re not. Using much of the latest science – brain imaging and psychological testing – this fun and insightful book demonstrates that more often than not we are helplessly riding the tiger that is our unconscious. Or maybe as Oscar Wilde put it, “Life is terrible. It rules us, we do not rule it.” Many of the examples Mlodinow marshals as evidence of our primitive brain controlling everything we do will shock and amaze.  

This may sound like bad news, to suddenly realise we’re not as smart and autonomous as we thought we were. But Mlodinow paints things in a positive light. He maintains that our primitive brain, the major part of the brain that instinctively controls everything we do and which we have inherited from our primate ancestors, is actually a tool that helps us negotiate modern life. It helps us apprehend danger and sense trouble, before our conscious selves finally see things. 

In the final chapter, Mlodinow shows how many of us rate our abilities higher than what they are. Those with an accurate view of themselves are often depressed! Apparently, it pays to be a bit deluded about ourselves. This delusion gives us the optimism and go-getter attitude that allows us to succeed in life. 

This is an illuminating book that will tell you many things you didn’t know about yourself, written by a jovial author who makes the science in this area easy to understand. Subliminal is much like Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, but a more accessible version.

Subliminal: The New Unconscious and What It Teaches Us, by Leonard Mlodinow. Published by Penguin. RRP: $19.99

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