The Invisible Gorilla

I'm sure by now you've heard about inattentional blindness, as I've posted about it a million times since this blog began. It's an amazing effect! It shows us that we really aren't as aware of the world as we think we are. If you haven't heard about it by now I encourage you to go right here to try out a demo on yourself! Inattentional blindness isn't the only time this happens though, there are a number of cognitive illusions that make you realize you're a lot stupider than you thought you were.

There's a brand new book out today by the semi-discoverers of inattentional blindness (well maybe they didn't discover it but they sure did make it famous). Chris Chabris and Dan Simons have a book called the Invisible Gorilla that is a really interesting read. I'm about halfway done and besides all the stuff I already knew - dude, I study this stuff - I've learned a lot about a lot of other cognitive illusions. The book is slightly reminiscent of blink and freakonomics except there is some real scholarship going on. Chris and Dan still can't get away from the citations (which are thankfully end notes). I'm actually very glad of this since when I'm reading books about science I'm always wondering, "where the hell did they get that idea from?!"

I encourage everyone to go out an buy at least 1 copy of their book (and preferably 7, one for each day of the week). You can find it right here:

Here's some more info on what you can find in the book from the authors:

Reading this book will make you less sure of yourself-and that's a good thing. In The Invisible Gorilla, we use a wide assortment of stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to reveal 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.

We combine the work of other researchers with our own findings on attention, perception, memory, and reasoning to reveal how faulty intuitions often get us into trouble. In the process, we 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 mind 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 numerous ways that our intuitions can deceive us, but it's more than a catalog of human failings. In the book, we also explain why people succumb to these everyday illusions and what we can do to inoculate ourselves against their effects. In short, we try to give you a sort of "x-ray vision" into your own minds, with the ultimate goal of helping you notice the invisible gorillas in your own life.

You can also check out the Authors webpage/blog @ invisiblegorilla.com. There's some interesting posts up there.

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By Mystery Man (not verified) on 18 May 2010 #permalink

Hey guys; I think you've just come up with a new name for an old human problem: magical thinking, superstition, the supernatural - humans are poor witnesses. Our brains just aren't that hot at perceiving reality.

we do seem to be wired to prefer information that supports what we want to be true rather than all information

and seem incapable of seeing what we don't expect - which explains why drivers often don't see jaywalkers even in good weather conditions

we like patterns from simple "A" then "B", so a causes b - but also how many times have you heard a jumble of sound that is strange until you pick out the pattern and the noise resolves into a familiar song?

Re @ntrygg: "...which explains why drivers often don't see jaywalkers...."

Never mind the jaywalkers, many drivers don't even see the lawful pedestrians and other traffic.