Written on July 15, 2011
Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives by Dean Buonomano (W.W. Norton, 2011)
A lively, surprising tour of our mental glitches and how they arise.
With its trillions of connections, the human brain is more beautiful and complex than anything we could ever build, but it’s far from perfect. Our memory is unreliable; we can’t multiply large sums in our heads; advertising manipulates our judgment; we tend to distrust people who are different from us; supernatural beliefs and superstitions are hard to shake; we prefer instant gratification to long-term gain; and what we presume to be rational decisions are often anything but. Drawing on striking examples and fascinating studies, neuroscientist Dean Buonomano illuminates the causes and consequences of these “bugs” in terms of the brain’s innermost workings and their evolutionary purposes. He then goes one step further, examining how our brains function-and malfunction-in the digital, predator-free, information-saturated, special effects-addled world that we have built for ourselves. Along the way, Brain Bugs gives us the tools to hone our cognitive strengths while recognizing our inherent weaknesses. 10 black-and-white illustrations