Impulse: Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It

Impulse: Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It

by David Lewis
     
 

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"It seemed like a good idea at the time" has been the limp excuse of many a person whose actions later became cause for regret. Although we see ourselves as rational beings, we are far more likely to act according to impulse than logic. Nor is this always a bad thing, David Lewis suggests. Impulse explores all the mystifying things people do despite knowing

Overview

"It seemed like a good idea at the time" has been the limp excuse of many a person whose actions later became cause for regret. Although we see ourselves as rational beings, we are far more likely to act according to impulse than logic. Nor is this always a bad thing, David Lewis suggests. Impulse explores all the mystifying things people do despite knowing better, from blurting out indiscretions to falling for totally incompatible romantic partners. Informed by the latest research in neuropsychology, this eye-opening account explains why snap decisions so often govern--and occasionally enrich--our lives.

Lewis investigates two kinds of thinking that occur in the brain: one slow and reflective, the other fast but prone to error. In ways we cannot control, our mental tracks switch from the first type to the second, resulting in impulsive actions. This happens in that instant when the eyes of lovers meet, when the hand reaches for a must-have product that the pocketbook can't afford, when "I really shouldn't" have another drink becomes "Oh why not?" In these moments, our rational awareness takes a back seat.

While we inevitably lose self-control on occasion, Lewis says, this can also be desirable, leading to experiences we cherish but would certainly miss if we were always logical. Less about the ideal reasoning we fail to use than the flawed reasoning we manage to get by with, Impulse proves there is more to a healthy mental life than being as coolly calculating as possible.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Mindlab International founder Lewis’s study is an illuminating guide through the infamously disordered, oft-unwelcomed realm of impulse. In a society that values free will, we rarely think our actions are inherently uncontrollable. So Lewis begins with examples of how impulse guides our lives—some of which are fortunate, but most are not, with several drawn from his own experience. But any instance of “impulsivity,” however rapid, has substantial psychological and even evolutionary significance. Neurological studies suggest that our brains produce two frequently interchangeable types of thought processes: deliberate and slow-moving logical processes, and quick, unconscious, impulsive reactions. From this scientific ground, Lewis moves into more general manifestations of impulse, from love to addictive tendencies like overeating and shopping. Lewis’s account, while timely, appears to lack a tangible definition of impulse and how it might differ from its compulsion-oriented counterparts. Other chapters themselves seem impulsively placed: a section on teenage behavior, for example, is not so easily connected to the broader discussion. There are also few solutions to the problems posed by impulsive thinking, aside from Lewis’s brief mentions of exercise and pre-impulse breaks. Nevertheless, this book’s readable balance of information and anecdote is sure to provide especially impulsive readers with a necessary moment of reflection. (Oct.)
From The Book
So while neuroscientists and psychologists may dismiss free will as an illusion, it is an illusion individuals and society could never live without... It seems to us that we have conscious will. That we are free agents. That we cause our actions and should take responsibility for what we say and do. And that everyone else should do the same. 'Although it is sobering and ultimately accurate to call all this an illusion,' says Daniel Wegner, 'it is a mistake to conclude that the illusory is trivial.' This should not, however, blind us to the fact that -- as impulses help demonstrate -- the mind does not run the brain. The brain runs itself. The mind is part of the running.
From the Book
So while neuroscientists and psychologists may dismiss free will as an illusion, it is an illusion individuals and society could never live without... It seems to us that we have conscious will. That we are free agents. That we cause our actions and should take responsibility for what we say and do. And that everyone else should do the same. 'Although it is sobering and ultimately accurate to call all this an illusion,' says Daniel Wegner, 'it is a mistake to conclude that the illusory is trivial.' This should not, however, blind us to the fact that -- as impulses help demonstrate -- the mind does not run the brain. The brain runs itself. The mind is part of the running.
Library Journal
Why, though we see ourselves as rational beings, are we more likely to make decisions based on impulse rather than logic? The answer, according to Lewis (founder & director. of research, Mindlab Intl., Sussex Innovation Ctr.), is that impulsive thinking is the default mode of our "zombie brain." Impulsive thinking, outside our conscious control, takes priority over reflective, logical, and conscious thinking. Lewis reviews supporting research from psychology and neuroscience, discusses developmental aspects of infant and adolescent behavior, and presents several tests of impulsivity including the 2D:4D digit ratio, a finger measurement thought to correlate with risk-taking in males. Lewis further examines the role impulses play in falling in love, overeating, and spending, as well as violent and destructive behavior. His conclusions are sobering: most decisions are subliminal, self-control is influenced by outside factors such as genetics, and free will is an illusion necessary to maintain social order. Though suggestions are given for moderating impulsive behavior—especially for managing the overeating impulse—Lewis concentrates more on explaining impulses than suggesting ways to change behavior or implement reflective thinking. VERDICT Overall, a fascinating, readable explanation of scientific research on impulses and consciousness. Recommended for public libraries.—Lucille M. Boone, San Jose P.L., CA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674725492
Publisher:
Harvard
Publication date:
10/01/2013
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
1,192,858
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

David Lewis is Founder and Director of Research at Mindlab International at the Sussex Innovation Centre.

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