Wray Herbert's engaging On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits has three main messages:
1. Evolved Brains: Our minds (which drive our thoughts, actions, and reactions), are evolved organs, constructed by adaptation over long periods of time to our environments.
2. Brain / Modern-Environment Mismatch: Unfortunately, our brains evolved in very different environments in which we now find ourselves. This leads to our reactions, biases, and thoughts to be too often mismatched and maladapted to circumstances in a 21st century world.
3. Choice with Knowledge: However, if we understand where our immediate reactions and thoughts come from, we can overcome irrational action and make choices that benefit our long-term goals.
Herbert is a journalist, reporting on the academic work of behavioral economists and experimental psychologists. The strength of On Second Thought is the breadth in which psychological and behavioral theory and experimental results are examined. If you are interested in the academic literature on the limits of rational behavior (as I am), then On Second Thought is both an excellent primer and synthesizer.
Dan Ariely covers much of the same ground in Predictably Irrational and the The Upside of Irrationality, but did so in a much more nuanced, intimate, curious and personal manner. On Second Thought would have been a better book if Herbert had some questions he wanted to answer, or things he wanted to figure out about himself, and was able to weave the research on decision making into a more compelling narrative.
Despite these quibbles, On Second Thought is a worthy addition to our "dumb us" and "getting our minds around our brains" bookshelves.
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