Why Choose This Book?: How We Make Decisions

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To the list of writers connecting mainstream readers and cutting-edge science—Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Johnson, James Surowiecki—add Read Montague, with this exploration of what exactly determines the choices we make.

With a new perspective on the science of decision-making from the researcher at the center of the computational neuroscience revolution, Why Choose This Book? shows what the latest brain science reveals about the crucial events of everyday experience—the choices we...

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Overview

To the list of writers connecting mainstream readers and cutting-edge science—Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Johnson, James Surowiecki—add Read Montague, with this exploration of what exactly determines the choices we make.

With a new perspective on the science of decision-making from the researcher at the center of the computational neuroscience revolution, Why Choose This Book? shows what the latest brain science reveals about the crucial events of everyday experience—the choices we make. From how we decide what we consume to what kind of art we like, and even the romantic, ethical, and financial choices we make, Read Montague guides the reader through a new approach to the mind with an accessible style that is both entertaining and illuminating.

In taking apart the mind's decision-making machinery, Montague first illustrates how our brains are like computers that are slow, small, fuzzy, and cheap—and began with goals like food, water, and sex. Second, he reveals how simple goals like these then turn into ideas like beauty, love, and terror with a life of their own. Finally, he explains how a value system in our heads controls those ideas so we can make good decisions—and how that physical system can break down leading to bad decisions, addictions, mental illness, and even large economic disasters.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Why do we choose chocolate ice cream over vanilla ice cream? Why do we select one lover rather than another? Baylor University neuroscientist Montague (now a fellow at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study) deftly marries psychology and neuroscience as he probes how we make choices. On one hand, decision making boils down to simple computation. Montague argues that our brains are efficient computational machines. But unlike computers, our brains fix on the goals of survival and reproduction, realizing that every hasty decision can be costly to the survival of the species. Our brains also harbor experiences (memories) that foster the choices we make. On the other hand, we can make choices that go against survival: for instance, we can choose to die for an idea. Why is that? Because, says Montague, human computations involve valuation, choosing between one value and another, requiring computation of cultural and psychological qualities. Although the notion of the brain as a computational machine can be traced at least as far back as Descartes, Montague adds new ideas to our understanding of how our brains compute. But his sometimes engaging and sometimes plodding book doesn't always explain the complex science for general readers. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Leading neuroscientist Montague takes a biomechanical approach to explain the mental processes that occur in decision-making. Like computers, the human brain processes data and produces a result-but with a twist, declares the author. The gray area of computational neuroscience lies in the value judgments that occur in biological systems. Nature, Montague posits in his debut, has equipped the biological machine with the added ability to determine the significance of a computation. Moreover, by storing these valuations as a byproduct of computation, the mind adapts and becomes increasingly more efficient. Repeated exposure to a typical risk-reward scenario, for example, causes the mind to anticipate outcomes. Montague revisits many of the old "right-brain" scenarios with a "left-brain" approach. With a graduate student, he replicated the famous "Pepsi Challenge" and found no relationship between the drink selected in the test and the drinks that subjects actually purchased in the stores. Though Montague's research is thorough, his explanations vary from wry to impenetrably abstract, and the definition of value remains elusive. Value may be a burst of dopamine, a goal created from a pattern of inputs from the environment, an abstract emotion such as trust, or anything in-between. The essence of Montague's work is that biological machines assign a value "tag" to each piece of data that they process. Whether tiny bacteria or human being, this is what differentiates us from the machines we create. The "soul" of the human machine may be the sum of these value tags. The answer to the titular question is itself a value judgment based on individual experience. An analysis that will appeal more toengineers than to behaviorists and psychologists: informative, but with a relatively narrow audience.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525949824
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 11/2/2006
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Read Montague is a professor in the department of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, director of the Human Neuroimaging Lab, and director of the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience. He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

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