Try this out on a friend. Ask them these questions:
- On a scale of 1 to 7, rate how well you understand how a zip works.
- How does a zip work? Describe in as much detail as you can all the steps in a zip’s operation.
- Now, on the same 1 to 7 scale, rate your knowledge of how a zip works again.
They will almost certainly give a lower estimate the second time, becuase the task has revealed to them how little they actually understand about a zip. This is called the Illusion of Explanatory Depth. The truly terrifying thing is that we are all subject to this illusion, about all of our knowledge. None of us actually know a fraction of the stuff that we think we know.
The reason for this is that we confuse other people’s knowledge with our own. Because other people that we trust understand stuff, we think that we understand that stuff ourselves. We are all prey to this confusion, from A-level students (and teachers), to scientists, politicians, and “experts” of all kinds.
Sloman and Fernback argue that this is because our minds are equipped and optimised for thinking in groups, rather than individually.
The ideas in this book are related to the ideas of Tversky and Kahneman, which are outlined in Thinking Fast and Slow. Thinking Fast and Slow is a longer and more scientifically dense book, but The Knowledge Illusion is also a really fun read, and much shorter.
Pre-industrial societies are very different from ours. Some of them kill grandparents when they get to a certain age. Individuals are often fluent in ten or more languages. They feast when food is plentiful, but are happy to go without for several days if there is nothing to eat.
Until a few thousand years ago, all humans lived in this way. It is what we evolved to do. This book is a fascinating account of Jared Diamond’s lifetime of observation of pre-industrial people from around the world. It is long, but packed with packed with intriguing stories from tribal societies.
Not surprisingly, Jared Diamond thinks that we have a lot to learn from these people.
In biopsych we learn that speech production and speech recognition are highly localised. Neuropsychologist Jack Gallant has peered into the brains of volunteers while they listen to podcasts, and finds that speech comprehension is actually much more interesting than the textbook would lead you to believe.
“when you’re listening to someone tell an interesting story, an enormous swath of your brain is being activated.”
This is Your Brain on Podcasts.
Read. This. Book.
This one is in my top three psychology books for A level students to read this year. It is exciting because it sketches out some future directions that cognitive neuroscience is going to take in the coming years and decades.
When Galileo pointed his telescope at the night sky, he saw for the first time the machinery of planetary motion. This laid the foundations for our modern understanding of astronomy. The same is happening today in brain science. The ongoing improvement in brain scanning is driving new understanding of how the brain actually works. This book is a guide to the road ahead.
Not only that, but the first few chapters are a brilliant primer on the basics of neuroscience and biopsychology, and will be great revision for this part of the exam.
A really interesting read, and very accessible.
“A connectome is the totality of connections between the neurons in a nervous system.”
“In the nineteenth century, the American psychologist William James wrote eloquently of the stream of consciousness, the continuous flow of thoughts through the mind. But James failed to note that every stream has a bed. Without this groove in the earth, the water would not know in which direction to flow. Since the connectome defines the pathways along which neural activity can flow, we might regard it as the streambed of consciousness.
The metaphor is a powerful one. Over a long period of time, in the same way that the water of the stream slowly shapes the bed, neural activity changes the connectome. The two notions of the self – as both the fast-moving, ever-changing stream and the more stable but slowly transforming streambed – are thus inextricably linked. This book is about the self as the streambed, the self in the connectome – the self that has been neglected for too long.”
The left hemisphere of the brain is “logical”, and the right is “emotional”, yes? Left handed people are more creative? Right handed people more logical? These are the kind of pseudo-scientific factoids that give psychology a bad name with other scientists. Like many lazy oversimplifications, there is a grain of truth at the core of them. Proper psychological science is about using observation and experiment to get to the bottom of the matter, and this book reviews what we actually know about lateralisation of function in the human brain.
It is really readable. It ranges from psychology to anthropology, molecular biology to astronomy, and cultural studies to anecdote. It has won loads of prizes, is great fun to read, and frankly is absolutely fascinating.
If you’re just interested in the psychology then perhaps start with chapter 8, but in fact I would just start at the beginning because you’re probably going to end up reading the whole thing anyway!