One of the most exciting books I have ever read.
The author is a science historian, and writes monthly articles for The Scientific American. What I am going to describe here sounds cold and formal, but the book is written with spirit and vigour, with lots of the author's personal experiences and views included. It pulsates with amazing ideas - and I really relished every word.
Basically, it showed that on the upside we humans are amazing thinking animals, capable of using logic and conducting experiments to further our understanding of nature and the world. But on the downside our brains are also designed to veer us towards some extraordinary distortions in thinking.
The very things that make us able to make wise judgements about the world, can all too easily lead us to being mildly fanciful, or even bizarrely so. Part of that is the difference in brain structure between individual people, part of it is just our natural way of thinking, which includes a host of weird and odd biases.
There was so much I got from this book .......
* Descriptions of how our brains work.
* The mechanics of how we think.
* Descriptions of the role of religion in our lives from an evolutionary standpoint.
* Descriptions of how our thinking is distorted. (Absolutely fascinating!)
* Provocative scenarios given, which even made an old rationalist like myself realise how much of my thinking is irrational and emotional.
* A wonderful exploration of the basic psychological building blocks of religion and politics,
* An explanation of the core difference between the main political parties, and the psychology which drives people to want to be affiliated with one or the other.
* The hormonal response which accompanies the sense of falling in love with someone (an experience found only in monogamous, pair-bonded species.)
* The scientific ideas explaining hallucinations and conspiracy theories.
* A celebration of science and the scientific method as our best way forward.
Finally, a little scenario presented in the book.
What would you do if asked to wear for a while a jumper that belonged to a children's TV presenter
What would you do if asked to wear a jumper that belonged to a sadistic, violent murderer
Many people (me included) would only feel comfortable with the TV presenter's jumper, yet rationally (and very obviously), it makes no difference whatsoever. You don't catch things from jumpers.
Apparently people who have transplants feel the same. They don't want transplants from people we consider degenerates.
This is just one of the descriptions in the book that helps the reader see their own thinking biases.....
I am concerned that this review has been much too pedestrian, and that I have failed to do justice to this amazing book. Please, pick it up, and see for yourself what a wonderfully good read it is.
P.S. By the way, I found the last few chapters of the book, detailing the history of astronomy and its discoveries, boring, (I can't get into anything to do with astronomy), and I skipped those. It did nothing to detract from the wonderfulness of the bulk of the book...