Is the Brain Good at What It Does?

Christopher Chabris in the New York Times Book Review:

ScreenHunter_06 Oct. 20 16.40The human brain gets a lot of press these days, but not all the publicity has been good. Its reviews are reminiscent of Barack Obama’s during the 2008 presidential campaign, when one side said he was a socialist Muslim foreigner and the other thought he was a savior from on high. To its detractors, the brain is a kludge, a hacked-up device beset with bugs, biases and self-­deceptions that undermine our decision making and well-being at every turn. To its admirers, it contains vast potential we can all unlock to improve our lives, thanks to “neural plasticity” that enables the adult nervous system to change in more dramatic ways than previously thought. Lately, a growing army of Chicken Littles retorts that this very plasticity has been hijacked by the Internet and other forms of technological crack that are rewiring our brains into a state of continual distraction and intellectual torpor.

The “your brain, warts and more warts” genre is well represented by the new book “Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives,” by Dean Buonomano, a neuroscientist at U.C.L.A. He takes readers on a lively tour of systematic biases and errors in human thinking, citing examples that are staples of psychology courses and other popular books. What is new, however, is Buonomano’s focus on the mechanisms of memory, especially its “associative architecture,” as the main causes of the brain’s bugs.

More here.