The Frontal Cortex

Book News

Self-promotion alert! If you’re allergic to self-aggrandizing blog posts, then you’ll probably want to stop reading now. But just a quick note to remind interested people that I’ll be in the Bay Area this week, talking about decision-making, before returning to the East Coast and holding events in NYC and Boston next week. Also, there have been some nice reviews of How We Decide in recent days. In the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Burton (author of the excellent “On Being Certain) says:

Lehrer offers real substance by going short on agenda and overreaching simplifications and being long on scholarship; his book presents an excellent synthesis of how many leading mind scientists view decision making. Lehrer is blessed with a rare combination of intelligence. He is a Rhodes scholar who has worked in the lab of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel; he has an insatiable curiosity as to how the mind works as well as a readily apparent aversion for pat answers. He has won my approval with his closing advice: “Embrace uncertainty. Hard problems rarely have easy solutions.”

Time Magazine:

Humans are supposed to be rational creatures. But while we strive to base our decisions on thoughtful deliberation and analysis, the occasional fit of passion has been known to creep in. Jonah Lehrer explores these warring impulses, revealing the mind to be a series of competing catalysts, a tangled network of reason and emotion. Using a raft of anecdotes and scientific studies, Lehrer answers some seemingly simple – and highly entertaining – questions. Does expensive wine really taste better than the cheap stuff, or are we biased by the price? Why do we spend more with a credit card than we do when paying with cash? While we can’t always control (or understand, for that matter) what our brain tells us, Lehrer writes, we can learn when to rely on reason and when to listen to our emotions. Sometimes, a little piece of chocolate cake can be good for you.

The Daily Mail:

Why do we do the things we do? For a long time, the answers to questions like that were anyone’s guess. But as Jonah Lehrer’s engrossing book tells us, that’s in the process of changing.


  1. #1 Luci
    February 16, 2009

    The young and limber ought to pat themselves on the back for solid work well done. Powell’s is great but slow – but buying from them was an easy decision anyway. Book buying is not all about instant gratification and Amazon.

    What next for the writer? Very curious to see what would happen with a long stretch of free time in a blue hued room: would we get some fiction?

  2. #2 Audrey
    February 17, 2009

    I hope you come to San Diego and give a talk soon as well!

  3. #3 Kevin
    February 17, 2009

    It was a tough decision for me, to enjoy a night with the wife and kid, after working with monkeys all day OR take the max downtown at night, cold and dark, and walk to see Jonah talk at Powell’s in Portland. Luckily my emotional brain was not up to the rational brain (I’d feel like crap for missing a talk by someone whose blog I read). An excellent talk!! And well attended. Perhaps the days of anti-intellectualism and anti-science are waning 🙂

  4. #4 Holley
    February 17, 2009

    any chance of appearances in a more southerly direction?

  5. #5 Mark
    February 18, 2009

    Really enjoying my first exposure to your work. Interesting difference in titles and jacket covers between US and the UK. And the big red “Don’t Press” button on the UK cover is a “decisive moment” in it’s own right. Not sure if I passed or failed.

  6. #6 Net
    February 18, 2009

    Will buy your book.

  7. #7 Phill Conrad
    February 18, 2009

    Great talk in Santa Barbara!

    I didn’t get a chance at the mike, during the Q and A, but if I had I would have started by congratulating you on being such a good listener—especially when some of folks at the mic seemed more interested in hearing themselves talk, or picking an argument than asking a coherent question. You really kept your cool and treated even the somewhat irritating questioners with a lot of respect–a very class act.

    The question I would have asked is this one: I find a lot of the results from neuroscience fascinating. Yet, I often hear you talk about how this or that result was obtained by probing the brains of rats, or primates, or this or that animal.

    While I’m not some kind of PETA absolutist about the use of animals in research, I nevertheless did find myself wondering about the welfare of the animals used in these experiments.

    I wonder if this raises any concerns for you, and I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on what the ethical issues are related to whether animals experience pain and suffering for the sake of our curiosity about the brain and related neurological systems?

    (I’m interested in your thought process–and how you approach issues like this—perhaps more interested in that, than in the “final answer”, because I’m not convinced there is any easy final answer to questions like this one.)

  8. #8 julian mendoza
    February 24, 2009

    I’m a big fan of your postings on Seed. I was surprised at how some critics saw your new book to be a jumble of entertaining and bewildering fragments, perhaps because the book’s encyclopedic scope overwhelms. Perhaps it is partly not knowing your journalistic intent to present rather than to prescribe.

    Still, the title can create an expectation of a normative prescription for making decisions, especially for pragmatic business types. And the debates will continue, but in the end one has to – uhm – decide on one’s working model.

    I would suggest that the decision making process might not seem so chaotic, nor undefined, if seen as sequential following the sensory signal’s route through the brain.

    We know the incoming signal pattern is compared against a library of friend-or-foe profiles, “caricatures” of the usual suspects, designed for quick recognition and fast response – as much as some would consider profiling impolitic.

    The process is sequential, and it’s not as if the brain consciously mulls, “Hmm, I wonder if I should send this up to the PFC (prefrontal cortex) guys up on the tenth floor to reason this out, or should I assign it to the guys in the dark basement …”

    If (a) the sensory signal patterns have not roused the front-line emotional guards, and (b) the brain decides there’s time for a more deliberate analysis, then the patterns are sent up to the rational PFC (prefrontal cortex) tecchies, who keep a library of models of cool logic.

    Watch the more savvy salespeople flank their prey: When the purchase is a major shift for the buyer, they are trained to sell first to the fear: create a gap, a pain point. When the buyer has made that shift, then sell on the product’s features, rationalizing the decision.

    Take the impulse buyer that I am, my survival instincts still know to latch on to the practical features- to justify later to the wife my latest and greatest gottahavit gizmo.

    – Julian Mendoza,

  9. #9 fan
    February 24, 2009

    seriously, any chance of a visit to chicago? don’t deprive the midwest of getting to see you!

  10. #10 Carl Thronson
    March 3, 2009

    I heard you on Fresh Air. I find the topic very interesting and extremely important to software engineering. I think this will revolutionize how we manage software projects.

  11. #12 lig tv izle
    March 7, 2009
  12. #13 sohbet odaları
    April 12, 2009

    Thanks so much for this! This is exactly what I was looking for

  13. #14 dans
    December 16, 2009

    Thanks this really was a different issue

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