I started reading this book because a friend of mine recommended it to me, but at first I wasn’t sure I was enjoying it. After some years reading very technical books about similar subjects, I thought this book sounded like a collection of anectodes that only very lightly tapped on the tip of the iceberg. But Leonard Mlodinow had me when he explained why two Tylenols could actually ease the pain of social exclusion and even the pain of a broken heart.

Feeling curious? Leonard Mlodinow draws from the early beginnings of psychology and evolutionism and traces them until the recent birth of a new field called social cognitive neuroscience. That is to say, this new field studies how our conscious and unconscious mind process thought, and it does so through the use of brain imaging technology, which is very recent. They then apply their results to our social interactions, trying to figure out how conscious or unconscious the decisions we make in our everyday lives are.

The author compares the conscious and unconscious to two entire railway systems. “Each comprise a myriad of densely interconnected lines, and the two systems are also connected to each other at various points.” They both work together in a very smart way evolution-wise, in order to allow us to navigate fast and safe in a world full of dangers, challenges and information to sort out. Our conscious picks up the general picture and our unconscious fills in the gaps. It does so with the visual data, with our hearing and with our memory. “In each of these cases our subliminal minds take incomplete data, use context or other cues to complete the picture, make educated guesses, and produce a result that is sometimes accurate, sometimes not, but always convincing. Our minds also fill in the blanks when we judge people, and a person’s category membership is part of the data we use to do that.”

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