Authors: Chris Chabris & Dan Simons
Review: Back when Lisa and I were newly married and in college there was a made for TV movie called Red Wind, starring Lisa Hartman Black. The basic plot of the movie was Hartman played a therapist working with people in abusive relationships while at the same time being in one herself. Unintentionally she convinced a patient that they should kill her (Hartman’s) spouse. They did so by using a wood chipper, thus the Red Wind of the movie’s title. Now the movie itself is rather unremarkable, but the real drama lies in our memory of it.
I swear that Lisa and I saw this movie together and she will swear (incorrectly) that she did not see it. This argument will come up sporadically (about as often as any couple would discuss wood chipper deaths), but has still remained constant over the years. The question is – who is right? I bet that if we both took a lie detector test we would both pass with flying colors. Is that because we are both right; or master liars? The real answer lies in the malleability of memory and when it comes to the details we just can’t be trusted.
To understand the premise of the book, please take the (short) test in the below video.
Did you see the gorilla? Most people do not. We only can focus on so much detail at one time that our mind just fills in the rest. It creates a pretty believable narrative in our minds, but it just doesn’t mean there is any truth to our memories, even immediate ones. The problem lies in the fact that we are convinced our memories, our minds, are top notch and we would never fall prey to such tricks. It is that belief in infallibility that causes us so many problems and arguments. For example, 63% of Americans believe they are smarter than the average American. A statistical impossibility, but a lot of us are convinced we are smarter than we are (or our countrymen are dumber than they are). We are also convinced our minds are more awesome than they are.
The human brain contains a lot of these programming quirks (traits? glitches?), and given that we all possess one it is a fascination topic of discussion (I study Psychology in college for exactly this reason). The authors go through a lot of examples in which this plays out including a convincing dissection of the low value of eye witness testimony, which is ironic given the high value most of us place on it. FWIW I did not see the gorilla the first time through the video (the original one). That is why I posted the video above because it will continue to fool you in new ways. Please visit the author’s web site to see lots more examples and videos clearly showing that all of us create our memories.
The door study is my favorite video.
Quick Review: 5 Stars out of 5.
Why I Read it: The first time I took the gorilla test way back when I totally failed.
Where I Obtained the Book: At the library.
Synopsis: Reading this book will make you less sure of yourself-and that’s a good thing. In The Invisible Gorilla, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, creators of one of psychology’s most famous experiments, use remarkable stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to demonstrate an important truth: Our minds don’t work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we’re actually missing a whole lot.
Chabris and Simons combine the work of other researchers with their own findings on attention, perception, memory, and reasoning to reveal how faulty intuitions often get us into trouble. In the process, they explain:
" Why a company would spend billions to launch a product that its own analysts know will fail
" How a police officer could run right past a brutal assault without seeing it
" Why award-winning movies are full of editing mistakes
" What criminals have in common with chess masters
" Why measles and other childhood diseases are making a comeback
" Why money managers could learn a lot from weather forecasters
Again and again, we think we experience and understand the world as it is, but our thoughts are beset by everyday illusions. We write traffic laws and build criminal cases on the assumption that people will notice when something unusual happens right in front of them. We’re sure we know where we were on 9/11, falsely believing that vivid memories are seared into our minds with perfect fidelity. And as a society, we spend billions on devices to train our brains because we’re continually tempted by the lure of quick fixes and effortless self-improvement.
The Invisible Gorilla reveals the myriad ways that our intuitions can deceive us, but it’s much more than a catalog of human failings. Chabris and Simons explain why we succumb to these everyday illusions and what we can do to inoculate ourselves against their effects. Ultimately, the book provides a kind of x-ray vision into our own minds, making it possible to pierce the veil of illusions that clouds our thoughts and to think clearly for perhaps the first time.
Chris received his B.A. in computer science and his Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University, where he was also a Lecturer and Research Associate for many years. He is now Assistant Professor of Psychology at Union College in Schenectady, New York, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Neurology at Albany Medical College, and a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. His research focuses on two main areas: how people differ from one another in mental abilities and patterns of behavior, and how cognitive illusions affect our decisions. He has published papers on a diverse array of topics, including human intelligence, beauty and the brain, face recognition, the Mozart effect, group performance, and visual cognition. Chris also writes occasionally for the Wall Street Journal. Chris is also a chess master and poker amateur.
Daniel Simons is a Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois. Simons received his B.A. in Psychology and Cognitive Science from Carleton College and his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Cornell University. He then spent five years on the faculty at Harvard University before moving to Illinois in 2002. His scholarly research focuses on the limits of human perception, memory, and awareness, and he is best known for his research showing that people are far less aware of their visual surroundings than they think. His work is published in top scientific journals and is discussed regularly in the popular media. His studies and demonstrations have been exhibited in more than a dozen science museums worldwide. In his spare time, he enjoys juggling, bridge, and chess.