Thursday, May 11, 2006

Book Club: Vol. One, Chapter Two

I haven't made as much progress in Daniel Gilbert's book as I would have liked this week. I'll have time to play catch-up over the weekend, though. (I've been wondering if Malcolm Gladwell would be reviewing it in The New Yorker, because it's tailor-made for his style, but it seems he has "guest reviewed" it on Amazon, which I imagine disqualifies a weightier review in the magazine. Too bad.)

I have reached a point where Gilbert discusses the way in which the human brain is designed to take certain actions before knowing why. The example he uses involves a rabid wolverine. If such a creature was, say, in the other corner of my living room right now, there's a good chance I would run away before my senses had fully pieced together just what it was that inspired me to flee. As Gilbert puts it:
Rabid wolverines, crying babies, hurled rocks, beckoning mates, cowering prey--these things count for a lot in the game of survival, which requires that we take immediate action when we happen upon them and do not dally to contemplate the finer points of their identities. As such, our brains are designed to decide first whether objects count and to decide later what those objects are.
This is a neat way for initially formless anxiety to help us avoid certain situations, like being tackled by a wolverine before we can lock ourselves in the bathroom. As a person who's often nervous and anxious for very little reason, though, I think my system might work a little too well in this way... Is that a rabid wolverine!? Whew, no; just the microwave.



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