Book Review: "How We Decide", by Jonah Lehrer

How does a pilot successfully crash land a plane? What goes through a quarterback's mind in the milliseconds after the snap? In "How We Decide", Jonah Lehrer gives us a vivid look at the inner workings of our brains when faced with making a decision. Filled with clear, real-life examples, Lehrer makes neuroscience easily accessible, and entertaining as well.

While some reviewers criticize "How We Decide" for being a lightweight in the neuroscience arena, its accessibility is just what makes this a great introduction for those new to the field. And clear, down to earth books like this are needed to attract a larger audience.

Why should non-scientists be interested in neuroscience? Everyone is faced with daily decisions. Some trivial, some pivotal. Who hasn't looked back over their life and wondered how it might have turned out if they had made a different decision during an important situation?

Throughout history, philosophers have thought that decision making was a choice between rational thought and emotional instinct. Which is better -- reasoning through a problem or going with your gut -- has been debated ad nauseam, yet no clear cut winner has been found.

As readers learn from this book, there are many factors at work when facing a problem. The decision making process is less an either/or proposition and more a careful blend of both rational and emotional thought. However, some situations require more rational thought and others are better served with emotional reasoning. Shedding light on what neuroscience has uncovered about this process can help people assess and improve their own decision making skills.

In chapter six, The Moral Mind, Lehrer takes a look at the link between morality and the decision making process. Though historically it has been thought that morality results from reason -- weighing the situation and rationally choosing the morally correct decision -- recent neuroscience shows that this is not actually the case. As presented through research in the book, we can see that moral decisions are more of a gut reaction that is then rationalized through the logical portion of our brains. Throughout this chapter, Lehrer shows how morality likely developed through human evolution and how childhood events shape an adult's eventual moral compass.

"How We Decide" is a thought provoking read that uses real world examples to clearly explain recent advances in neuroscience. It is a thoroughly interesting book that will leave readers examining their own decisions and possibly open their minds to a new way of thinking about both their own and others' intentions.

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