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A delightfully unsparing look into what your brain is doing behind your back.
In recent years, we've heard a lot about the extraordinary workings of our hundred-billion-celled brain: its amazing capacities to regulate all sensation, perception, thinking, and feeling; the power to shape all experience and define our identity. Indeed, the brain's power is being confirmed every day in new studies and research. But there is a brain we don't generally hear about, a brain we might not want to hear about...the "prima donna within."
Exposing the mind's deceptions and exploring how the mind defends and glorifies the ego, Dr. Cordelia Fine illustrates the brain's tendency to self-delusion. Whether it be hindsight bias, wishful thinking, unrealistic optimism, or moral excuse-making, each of us has a slew of inborn mind-bugs and ordinary prejudices that prevent us from seeing the truth about the world and ourselves. With fascinating studies to support her arguments, Dr. Fine takes us on an insightful, rip-roaringly funny tour through the brain you never knew you had.
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Cordelia Fine is a research associate in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University. She lives in Australia.From Scientific American:
Many psychological studies show that on average, each of us believes we are above average compared with others—more ethical and capable, better drivers, better judges of character, and more attractive. Our weaknesses are, of course, irrelevant. Such self distortion protects our egos from harm, even when nothing could be further from the truth. Our brains are the trusted advisers we should never trust. This "distorting prism" of selfknowledge is what Cordelia Fine, a psychologist at the Australian National University, calls our "vain brain." Fine documents the lengths to which a human brain will go to bias perceptions in the perceiver’s favor. When explaining to ourselves and others why something has gone well or badly, we attribute success to our own qualities, while shedding responsibility for failure. Our brains bias memory and reason, selectively editing truth to inflictless pain on our fragile selves. They also shield the ego from truth with "retroactive pessimism," insisting the odds were stacked inevitably toward doom. Alternatively, the brain of "selfhandicappers" concocts nonthreatening excuses for failure. Furthermore, our brains warp perceptions to match emotions. In the extreme, patients with Cotard delusion actually believe they are dead. So "pigheaded" is the brain about protecting its perspective that it defends cherished positions regardless of data. The "secretive" brain unconsciously directs our lives via silent neural equipment that creates the illusion of willfulness. "Never forget," Fine says, "that your unconscious is smarter than you, faster than you, and more powerful than you. It may even control you. You will never know all of its secrets." So what to do? Begin with self-awareness, Fine says, then manage the distortions as best one can. We owe it to ourselves "to lessen the harmful effects of the brain’s various shams," she adds, while admitting that applying this lesson to others is easier than to oneself. Ironically, one category of persons shows that it is possible to view life through a clearer lens. "Their self-perceptions are more balanced, they assign responsibility for success and failure more even-handedly, and their predictions for the future are more realistic. These people are living testimony to the dangers of self-knowledge," Fine asserts. "They are the clinically depressed." Case in point.
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