[Buonomano] takes readers on a lively tour of systematic biases and errors in human thinking, citing examples that are staples of psychology courses and other popular books. What is new, however, is Buonomano's focus on the mechanisms of memory, especially its "associative architecture," as the main causes of the brain's bugs.
The New York Times Book Review
“An ingenious idea, and Buonomano has fully delivered on its promise. . . . A remarkably accessible and engaging introduction to the neuroscience of the human condition.”
“A great book, filled with nuggets about how the brain worksand faltersand even some suggestions on how to put it to better use.”
UCLA neurobiology and psychology professor Buonomano presents an interesting study of how and why our brains sometimes fail when we try to remember long lists of information, add large numbers, or make long-term decisions. While the intelligence of humans continues to evolve, our brains remain far from perfect, exemplified by unreliable memory manipulated by advertising, distrust of people different from us, and belief in superstitions and the supernatural. In explaining these "bugs," the author delves deep into the fascinating realm of the brain's innermost workings, using the identifiable metaphor of computer hardware and software. The focus on lay language helps to connect listeners with the author's research, which suggests that human successes, failures, joys, and sufferings are the product of protein interactions and electrical changes taking place inside the brain. Buonomano's heavily researched, highly specialized work is well read by Southern Oregon University political science professor William Hughes. While this title is best suited to students and faculty in clinical neuroscience fields, Buonomano still manages to make highly sophisticated brain research understandable to lay audiences interested in human behavior. [Includes a PDF of diagrams and illustrations from the text.—Ed.]—Dale Farris, Groves, TX
Putting the analogy of the computer to good use, Buonomano (Neurobiology and Psychology/UCLA) makes the case that "our lives are governed by brain bugs" of which we are unaware, although unfortunately there are no "patches, updates or upgrades" to easily remedy the situation.
While digital computers surpass the human brain when it comes to processing information and performing numerical calculations, our brains operate by pattern recognition, which simultaneously accounts for their strengths and their weaknesses. A trivial example is the use of CAPTCHA authentication software, which bars web robots from spamming websites. The author compares the "approximately 90 billion neurons linked by 100 trillion synapses in the human brain" to the "approximately 20 billion Web pages connected by a trillion links." The key, however, is not the brain's numerical advantage but our ability to extract meaning from the context in which words appear—e.g., the difference between the household pet and the computer mouse. Human learning occurs by association as new synapses are weakened, strengthened or newly formed between neurons that fire simultaneously. This leave us vulnerable to marketers, as was the case when ads showcased celebrities smoking cigarettes. Similarly, the way a question is framed can bias the response, and a lie repeated often enough is fixed in our memory. Buonomano suggests that while we associate cause and effect for things that occur within seconds, over longer periods are judgment becomes weaker. For example, we often fail to save enough for retirement, and the lure of instant gratification makes us vulnerable to manipulation in our purchases and our political choices.
Intriguing take on behavioral economics, marketing and human foibles.