Large and In Charge—Maybe
Human beings like to think “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul,” but bestselling author Leonard Mlodinow makes clear in his New York Time number one book Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior that isn’t the case. Mlodinow takes the reader through an easily readable scientific tour of how the brain works and how much the unconscious mind influences decisions that we are not aware of.
Mlodinow who received his PhD in theoretical physics has written books with Deepak Chopra and Stephen Hawking is certainly no light weight when it comes to brain power, but despite his obvious expertise, Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior is an easy read filled with profound observations about how many of the things humans do are not done in the immediate consciousness.
The author shows how neurological research over the past two decades makes it clear that “the way we experience the world--our perception, behavior, memory, and social judgment—is largely driven by the mind's subliminal processes and not by the conscious ones, as we have long believed.” The subliminal processes of the mind are well known to marketeers and millions of dollars are spent trying to find ways to package and advertise products that connect with the subliminal mind of the consumer.
The book cites numerous examples of how the subconscious mind grabs seemingly insignificant things and puts them into to conscious decisions. Mlodinow uses a blind taste test where a group of people were asked to rate the taste of wines. In the test, the wines were displayed with their prices listed below each bottle. After a taste test participants were asked to rate each bottle of wine. Nearly every time, the more expensive bottle received the highest rating for taste. Unknown to the participants all the bottles contained the same wine.
In the now famous Coke/Pepsi drink war, Coke consistently beat out Pepsi, but in a blind taste test, Pepsi beat out Coke by nearly a 2:1 margin. Again, it was a case of marketing and advertising playing upon Coke brand recognition as being the superior drink even though the blind taste test showed otherwise. In another case a man blinded by two strokes was able to negotiate a hallway filled with obstacles even though he had no idea of where they were located. Scientist named the phenomenon “blind-sight.”
The author uses concise, accessible explanations of the “most obscure scientific subjects to unravel the complexities of the subliminal mind. In the process he shows the many ways it influences how we misperceive our relationships with family, friends, and business associates; how we misunderstand the reasons for our investment decisions; and how we misremember important events—along the way, changing our view of ourselves and the world around us.”
Mlodinow explains how the brain is structured and how some information in the brain cannot be accessed. Many like to compare the brain to a computer, but the reference is skewed as most computers process information serially, meaning one bit at a time although at lightening speeds. However the brain is a multilevel processing organ and processes information along multiple parallel levels in different divisions. Some of those divisions are highly specialized as Mlodinow explains.
Reading through the book raises an obvious question and that is as human beings do we really have freewill or is free will the subconscious mind controlling conscious perceptions making freewill a moot point? It is difficult to explain away freewill when the unconscious mind controls a large part of what makes us human beings.
Keeping all those things in mind, Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior is an interesting read if you have an inquisitive mind and want to know why you do the things you do. A five star read