Book Review “How we decide” by Jonah Lehrer

This is like a scientific explanation/version of the “Blink” book by Gladwell, although I think Gladwell tells better stories. I like all the explanations about the dopamine and the internal debates within our brain between amygdala (emotional brain) and prefrontal cortex (logical brain). When confronted with complex problem (more than 4 variables), it may be better to trust the amygdala, which is good at tapping on our past failures/experience. Too much logical thinking/analysis by prefrontal cortex could get us bogged down by complexity, like in the poker game.

I especially like the explanation about how one is fascinated by seeing a certain product he likes. The release of dopamine gives the person the urge to buy until the prefrontal cortex jumps in to analyze the situation and perform a cost/benefit analysis. Without this balance force, we could be buying a lot of things we cannot afford, as some out-of-control American shoppers with overdrawn credit cards often do. The use of credit card, as a form of delayed pain, also helps to silence the warning from our prefrontal cortex.

To facilitate good check and balance, one must practice thinking about how we think. The ability to tell whether the arguments are emotional or logical could help break the deadlock in indecisiveness. The surprising thing I learned is that our emotional brain is a better-evolved part of our brain. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to make complex decision with many variables. Somehow our emotional brain has distilled our past experience into “gut feelings” or “sixth sense” that cuts through many levels of complexity.

The use of the flight simulator allows the pilot to gain experience and train the decision making process without too harsh of a consequence, like crashing a plane. Perhaps, we should all be playing with life simulator in our young age to help us making better decisions in our life.

This is an excellent book. It adds a lot to my understanding of how our brain works and help explain why people behave in certain ways.