Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds / Edition 1

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"Fascinating and insightful. . . . I cannot recall a book that has made me think more about the nature of thinking." — Richard C. Lewontin

Harvard University

Everyone knows that optical illusions trick us because of the way we see. Now scientists have discovered that cognitive illusions, a set of biases deeply embedded in the human mind, can actually distort the way we think.

In Inevitable Illusions, distinguished cognitive researcher Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini takes us on a provocative, challenging, and thoroughly entertaining exploration of the games our minds play. He opens the doors onto the newly charted realm of the cognitive unconscious to reveal the full range of illusions, showing how they inhibit our ability to reason—no matter what our educational background or IQ. Inevitable Illusions is stimulating, eye-opening food for thought.

Scientists have recently made the alarming discovery that the human mind is apparently "hard wired" to make mistakes in judgement--cognitive illusions--thatfunction like mental blinders, including "juror's fallacy, " "predictability in hindsight, " and the "seven deadly mental sins."

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Minimally, how many people must there be in a room to allow a better than 50 percent chance that two of them will have the same birthday? Your answer may reveal the presence of a cognitive illusion-a mental tunnel that confounds rational thought. Piattelli-Palmarini, director of the Cognitive Science Institute in Milan and a research associate at MIT, offers fascinating examples of such illusions to show how spontaneous, intuitive judgment can lead us astray. Our failure to grasp basic probability, for example, can lead to catastrophic decisions in law and medicine. The author describes the seven deadly mental sins and suggests ways to overcome bias and "mental sloth." This thoughtful, often disturbing book will challenge even those readers with a firm grounding in probability and statistics. For academic and large public libraries.-Laurie Bartolini, Legislative Research, Springfield, Ill.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471159629
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 11/28/1996
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

MASSIMO PIATTELLI-PALMARINI, Ph.D., is a Principal Research Associate of the Center for Cognitive Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Director of the Department of Cognitive Science at the Institute of San Raffaele in Milan, Italy. His books The Will to Study and the Italian edition of Inevitable Illusions were international bestsellers.

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Table of Contents

Cognitive Illusions.

Our Spontaneous Intuitions: Angels or Demons?.

A Brief Speleology of the Mind: An Easy Tunnel.

Probability Illusions.

Calculating the Unknown, or Bayes' Law.

The Fallacy of Near Certainty.

The Seven Deadly Sins.

How to Emerge from the Tunnel of Pessimism.

The Principle of Identity and the Psychology of Typicality.

A (Rationally) Optimistic Conclusion.

A Super-Tunnel.


Tunnel Exits.


Suggested Reading.


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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2005

    Packed with Knowledge!

    'Let the thinker beware' could be the motto for this excellent and very useful book. Author Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini has done a masterful job of arraying some of the most serious and most commonplace errors of judgment, estimation and deduction. The style is mostly straightforward, if academic, and makes the meat of the book¿s message accessible to the general reader. One quibble is that the author¿s explanation of certain probability calculations (especially Bayes¿ theorem) leaves them less clear than they could be. That aside, we give this book the highest recommendation, especially for those who like to consider how people understand their world. If you are devoted to clear thinking, you could practically use it to conduct a daily scrutiny of your mental processes - an examination of cognition similar to the monastic examination of conscience - to identify and correct any inclinations to serious cognitive sin.

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