The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us

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His bold insights about the brain are matched only by the stunning simpl Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes Does religious experience come from God, or is it just the random firing of neurons in the brain? Drawing on brain research on Carmelite nuns that has attracted major media attention and provocative new research in near-death experiences, The Spirit If the conscious mind—the part you consider to be you—is just the tip of the iceberg, what is the rest doing?

In this sparkling and provocative new book, the renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman navigates the depths of the subcon But the power of music goes much, What is autism: a devastating developmental disorder, a lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius?

In truth, it is all of these things and moreand the future of our society depends on Cart Help Sign In. Specials Apps Gift Center. Play Sample. Mind by Daniel J. Siegel, M. Narrator: Daniel J. Buss As acclaimed psychological researcher and author David Buss writes, "People are mesmerized by murder. Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion.

Chris Chabris: When Intuition Fails

Steve Salerno wrote a whole book about the sellers of this illusion. He called it Sham. Chabris and Simons review several examples of how to "transform a claim with almost no scientific support into a popular legend that fuels multimillion-dollar businesses. They're especially qualified to do so, as Chabris published a meta-analysis of studies that allegedly support the idea that listening to Mozart increases one's IQ.

Doug’s New Book!

In other words, the studies amounted to what is referred to in polite society as bullshit. Chabris appears in Bullshit , season one, episode 5: Baby Bullshit, about the belief that Mozart is good for babies, despite the fact that there has never been a study on babies and the so-called Mozart effect. The authors found similar pseudoscience behind Nintendo's overly hyped Brain Age software for gaming systems. About the only uncontested effect of cognitive training is that training in a specific area improves performance in that area but does not transfer to other cognitive tasks.

If you're trying to exercise your brain, you'd do yourself more good by taking a brisk walk. There is also some positive news for those who use groups to make decisions: you're better off if you have the members of the group think about the issue independently and bring their written thoughts to the table. Many groups use the "brainstorming" technique that brings the members to the table to have them listen to and discuss each other's thoughts on some problem or issue.

The members are told not to be critical of their own or other's ideas until all the ideas have been put on the table. This method has been shown not to work as well as having the members come to the table with their independently derived thoughts. The reader can use his or her intuition to figure out why this is the case, or you can read the book for details. The book begins with a discussion of the so-called "invisible gorilla test," which isn't really a test at all. It's not even accurate to refer to "the invisible gorilla," since about half of those who have been tested see the gorilla.

The interesting thing about the test is that about half of those who take it don't see the gorilla. Many, in fact, are convinced that two films were used and that they were tested with the film that had no gorilla. Most who don't see the gorilla the first time through are shocked that they could have missed something so salient cross their visual field without them noticing. Chabris and Simons tell us that despite what some people think, there is no difference in personality, intelligence, or educational level that distinguishes those who see and those who don't see the gorilla. There's no gender or age difference.


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When I showed a film of the invisible gorilla to my classes, I tried the trick of telling them that females usually do better than males, just to give both groups an incentive to focus more intently on the task at hand. The only group that might do especially well on this test is the one that is made up of serious basketball players. The reason should be obvious. The gorilla test exemplifies what is called inattentional blindness. It is just one of several everyday illusions that the authors discuss. These illusions are not just intellectual exercises that don't affect us very often.

They are called everyday illusions because they occur all the time and they can have significant effects that run the gamut from mistaken identity to false imprisonment to death on the highway, the runway, or the high seas. Some of these illusions lead to misguided legislation that aims at preventing harm but in fact doesn't prevent harm and may actually lead to more harm. Several legislatures have passed hand-held phone laws for drivers, banning driving while holding a cell phone but allowing driving while talking on a hands-free phone.

The legislation is based on the illusion that holding the phone makes it harder to steer a vehicle and thus more dangerous than driving while using a hands-free device.


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Seventy-seven percent of Americans think it's safer to talk on a hands-free phone than on a handheld phone. The empirical evidence shows otherwise. The evidence shows that the deficit in driving skill has nothing to do with holding or not holding the phone but with the distraction that comes from talking on the phone while driving. The problem is with the eyes, not the hands. The dangers of hands-free phone use while driving might be amplified by another illusion, the confidence illusion , by deluding a driver into thinking that she can drive safely while talking on the phone as long as her hands are free.

Despite your belief in your abilities to multitask, "the more attention-demanding things your brain does, the worse it does each one. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that training people to be more attentive by trying to develop an ability to notice the unexpected doesn't help. We've evolved to notice what we need to notice to survive and multiply. Furthermore, Chabris and Simons remind us: "Our neurological circuits for vision and attention are built for pedestrian speeds, not for driving [or flying!

The fact that inattentional blindness is unavoidable doesn't mean there aren't important lessons to be learned from studying it. We might be more understanding of people who claim they didn't see something even though it was right before their eyes. They may be telling the truth. On the other hand, we might be less taken aback when we notice something that is right before our eyes that we didn't notice a few seconds or minutes or days ago. What one takes to be a miracle might just be a matter of inattentiveness while perceiving.

And we should be realistic about what we should expect from those manning baggage scanners at airports and from our radiologists or dentists reading x-rays. I don't think we should speculate, however, that inattentional blindness explains why others don't see things the way we see them, as Dean Radin does in his lame attempt to explain why skeptics reject psi Entangled Minds , p. Perceptual illusions like inattentional blindness or inattentional deafness and change blindness reveal some important facts about perception.

Our brains have evolved to produce useful representations without requiring faithful duplication of the visual or auditory, etc. The brain isn't storing hundreds or thousands of little details at each moment and constantly comparing those details to see if anything's been missed or has changed. Perception is determined in part by expectation, which makes perceiving the unexpected difficult unless it stands out vividly against the general picture perception provides. Another illusion Chabris and Simons cover is the memory illusion.

Readers of The Skeptic's Dictionary will be familiar with such things as false memory and cryptomnesia. Just as vision does not function like a video camera, memory does not function by recalling replications of faithful representations that have been experienced. Both perception and memory are constructive activities and both are prone to error in the act of constructing a vivid perception or memory. Most of us are deceived into thinking that the more vivid and detailed our memories are, the more accurate they are.

Press Release: The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

The scientific evidence does not support our intuition here. There are many vivid examples of people having vivid but false memories of having been kidnapped, lost in the mall, or meeting some famous person. This illusion of confidence not only leads us to put more faith in our own memories than we should, it also leads us to put more faith in the testimony of others when they exert certainly and appear self-assured.

One of the more difficult points I had in getting my critical thinking and philosophy of law students to accept was the fact that eyewitness testimony has the strongest influence on jurors but is known to be unreliable. Eyewitness testimony is certainly less reliable than physical or circumstantial evidence, even if our intuition tells us otherwise. In my view, the greatest hindrance to critical thinking is ignorance. You can't think very well about any subject if you don't have the necessary knowledge. On the other hand, many people with a great deal of knowledge prove to be ignorant of what they don't know, and the consequences of that ignorance can be disastrous.

It should go without saying that information is not the same as knowledge, otherwise we'd all be extremely knowledgeable. Most of us are overwhelmed with information, but we shouldn't assume that being familiar with dozens of factoids is equivalent to understanding anything. Having knowledge and thinking one has knowledge are often worlds apart. Chabris and Simons provide several amusing examples of scientists and other experts "overestimating their knowledge in their own fields of expertise.

I won't bore the reader with the obvious examples of arrogant ignoramuses who have led us and kept us in wars where there isn't even a sensible meaning to the word 'win' or 'victory.

The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us

On the other hand, there is an obvious benefit to the illusion of knowledge. True, it gives us more confidence than we should have and creates an unrealistic view of our world, but it provides us with an optimistic viewpoint that allows us to get out of bed in the morning and go through the day oblivious to what wicked morons we are.

Depressed people, many of you will be happy to know, don't usually suffer from the illusion of knowledge. Still, it is depressing to realize that many people running wars or political campaigns, or betting on horses, commodities, or stocks are prone to mistake their good luck for skill and knowledge. This has the added negative effect of giving them the illusion of confidence. It is a hard lesson to accept, but the success of many people is due to luck, not knowledge. If a thousand people try a thousand different methods and one of them hits the jackpot, it is an illusion to think the winner had more knowledge than the losers.

If two psychics pick opposite winners in an athletic contest, one of them may appear to have more knowledge that the other, but the appearance is an illusion. Playing on the illusion of knowledge, hucksters use "technobabble" to try to sell us expensive audio equipment or HDMI cables, for example, when the evidence shows that there's no meaningful difference between the expensive and the inexpensive stuff.

Chabris and Simons are particularly offended by the use of "colorful images of blobs of activity on brain scans that can seduce us into thinking we have learned more about the brain and the mind than we really have. Some might be surprised that the authors have many good things to say about those weather forecasters who appear on the nightly news to give us their forecasts. Readers of The Skeptic's Dictionary know that causal reasoning causes many people all kinds of problems.

Book Review - The Invisible Gorilla - By Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons - The New York Times

For example, no matter how many excellent scientific studies show that acupuncture has no intrinsic clinical value and is a form of placebo medicine, there will always be someone who thinks those studies must be wrong because "acupuncture is the only thing that helps my migraines" or some such thing. The illusion of causality gets full coverage in The Invisible Gorilla.

There's the background involving our evolutionary history that has produced a species with stupendous pattern-recognition abilities, so stupendous, in fact, that we often see patterns where there are none. We've also evolved to find meaning in patterns and infer causal relationships from coincidences. And we are usually completely unaware of these biases.

In fact, visual areas of your brain can be activated by images that only vaguely resemble what they're tuned for. In just one-fifth of a second, your brain can distinguish a face from other objects like chairs or cars. In just an instant more, your brain can distinguish objects that look a bit like faces, such as a parking meter or a three-prong outlet, from other objects like chairs.

Seeing objects that resemble faces induces activity in a brain area called the fusiform gyrus that is highly sensitive to real faces. In other words, almost immediately after you see an object that looks anything like a face, your brain treats it like a face and processes it differently than other objects.

Add a little religious or political zealotry to the brain's natural disposition to recognize faces in just about anything with a shape and you've got the recipe for a dozen tortillas with Our Lady of Guadalupe imprinted on them or a single toasted cheese sandwich that reminds people of President Obama. On a serious note, just as we mistakenly trust a person who exudes confidence, we mistakenly think a person has expertise because he or she has lots of information.

How Our Intuitions Deceive Us

As noted above, one of the hardest lessons to learn is that personal experience is not always the best guide as to what's true or what's even relevant to what's true. For example, many people are convinced their aches and pains are affected by the weather. Telling them that scientific studies haven't found any connection between changes in the weather and changes in people's aches and pains won't convince anyone that the two are not related. They've experienced it, and that's that.

No amount of discourse on the post hoc fallacy , the regressve fallacy , confirmation bias , or the placebo effect will change their minds. It's almost as if there's a conspiracy in nature to lead people into error. Speaking of conspiracy theories In essence, conspiracy theories infer cause from coincidence. The bottom line, according to the authors, is that the only way to properly determine causal relations is to do an experiment.

Getting this across and accepted by most people is like teaching a camel to smile very unnatural. Even epidemiological studies should be viewed with caution. They can indicate strong associations that should be tested for causality, but they don't establish causality in themselves. There have been too many studies claiming, or implying by their narrative, that a causal connection exists only because they found x followed y. But without comparing other companies that either had x but didn't produce y, or produced y but didn't have x, we have no idea whether we're dealing with a causal event or a coincidence.


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