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The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us (Paperback)

By: Christopher Chabris


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Review

Tom Vanderbilt Reviews The Invisible Gorilla

Tom Vanderbilt writes on design, technology, architecture, science, and many other topics. He is author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) published in 2008 by Alfred A. Knopf, and Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America, published in 2002 by Princeton Architectural Press. He is contributing editor to I.D. and Print magazines, contributing writer at Design Observer, and writes for many publications, ranging from Wired to the New York Times to Men''s Vogue to the Wilson Quarterly. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Do you remember when you first saw--or more likely, didn’t see--the gorilla? For me it was one afternoon a number of years ago when I clicked open one of those noxious-but-irresistible forwarded emails ("You Won’t Believe Your Eyes!"). The task was simple--count the number of passes in a tight cluster of basketball players--but the ensuing result was astonishing: As I dutifully (and correctly) tracked the number of passes made, a guy in a gorilla suit had strolled into the center, beat his chest, and sauntered off. But I never saw the gorilla. And I was hardly alone.

The video, which went on to become a global viral sensation, brought "inattentional blindness"--a once comparatively obscure interest of cognitive psychologists--into striking relief. Here was a dramatic reminder that looking is not necessarily seeing, that “paying” attention to one thing might come at the cost of missing another altogether. No one was more taken with the experience than the authors of the original study, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, as they recount in their new--and, dare I say, eye-opening--book, The Invisible Gorilla. "The fact that people miss things is important," they write, "but what impressed us even more was the surprise people showed when they realized what they had missed."

The Invisible Gorilla uses that ersatz primate as a departure point (and overarching metaphor) for exploring the myriad of other illusions, perceptual or otherwise, that we encounter in everyday life--and our often complete lack of awareness as we do so. These "gorillas" are lurking everywhere--from the (often false) memories we think we have to the futures we think we can anticipate to the cause-and-effect chains we feel must exist. Writing with authority, clarity, and a healthy dose of skepticism, Simons and Chabris explore why these illusions persist--and, indeed, seem to multiply in the modern world--and how we might work to avoid them. Alas, there are no easy solutions--doing crosswords to stave off cognitive decline in one’s dotage may simply make you better at doing crosswords. But looking for those "gorillas in our midst" is as rewarding as actually finding them.

(Photo © Kate Burton)


Short Desription

Reading this book will make you less sure of yourself—and that’s a good thing. In The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, creators of one of psychology’s most famous experiments, use remarkable stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to demonstrate an important truth: Our minds don’t work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we’re actually missing a whole lot.
 
Chabris and Simons combine the work of other researchers with their own findings on attention, perception, memory, and reasoning to reveal how faulty intuitions often get us into trouble. In the process, they explain:
 
• Why a company would spend billions to launch a product that its own analysts know will fail
• How a police officer could run right past a brutal assault without seeing it
• Why award-winning movies are full of editing mistakes
• What criminals have in common with chess masters
• Why measles and other childhood diseases are making a comeback
• Why money managers could learn a lot from weather forecasters
 
Again and again, we think we experience and understand the world as it is, but our thoughts are beset by everyday illusions. We write traffic laws and build criminal cases on the assumption that people will notice when something unusual happens right in front of them. We’re sure we know where we were on 9/11, falsely believing that vivid memories are seared into our minds with perfect fidelity. And as a society, we spend billions on devices to train our brains because we’re continually tempted by the lure of quick fixes and effortless self-improvement.
 
The Invisible Gorilla reveals the myriad ways that our intuitions can deceive us, but it’s much more than a catalog of human failings. Chabris and Simons explain why we succumb to these everyday illusions and what we can do to inoculate ourselves against their effects. Ultimately, the book provides a kind of x-ray vision into our own minds, making it possible to pierce the veil of illusions that clouds our thoughts and to think clearly for perhaps the first time.
 


From the Hardcover edition.



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