The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size

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9780670875795: The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size

As John Casti wrote, "Finally, a book that really does explain consciousness." This groundbreaking work by Denmark's leading science writer draws on psychology, evolutionary biology, information theory, and other disciplines to argue its revolutionary point: that consciousness represents only an infinitesimal fraction of our ability to process information. Although we are unaware of it, our brains sift through and discard billions of pieces of data in order to allow us to understand the world around us. In fact, most of what we call thought is actually the unconscious discarding of information. What our consciousness rejects constitutes the most valuable part of ourselves, the "Me" that the "I" draws on for most of our actions -- fluent speech, riding a bicycle, anything involving expertise. No wonder that, in this age of information, so many of us feel empty and dissatisfied. As engaging as it is insightful, this important book encourages us to rely more on what our instincts and our senses tell us so that we can better appreciate the richness of human life.

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Review:

The "user illusion" in computing is the desktop graphical user interface (GUI): the friendly, comprehensible illusion presented to the user to conceal all the bouncing bits and bytes that do the actual work. Tor Nørretranders writes that "our consciousness is a user illusion for ourselves and the world ... one's very own map of oneself and one's possibilities of intervening in the world." Much of Nørretranders' evidence comes from comparing the wide bandwidth of experience to the narrow bandwidth of consciousness, and from examining how much of our brain function is never consciously acknowledged. Although slightly out of date (the book was written in 1991; it was a bestseller in Europe), The User Illusion has been well translated and gives a refreshing, non-Anglophone take on a problem that is not likely to go away anytime soon.

About the Author:

Tor Nørretranders is a Danish writer, speaker, thinker, and self-identified “science storyteller” who writes with “a sophistication rarely seen in popular science writing” (New York Times). He is the author of The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size and The Generous Man: How Helping Others Is the Sexiest Thing You Can Do.

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