Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

Warning: this book is NOT about tapping into superhero potential through the use of genetic engineering that has been used to successfully create invisible gorillas.

If you're disappointed, feel free to stop reading now. If that seemed elementary and you're shaking your head... You can still stop. Anyway, the title is actually a reference to the study that was rather cheekily entitled, "Gorillas in Our Midst." If you don't know what I'm referring to and would like to test yourself, check out a version of the experiment and see how you do.

Reading this book was interesting because less than a month ago I also read Malcolm Gladwell's book, Blink, which defends the opposing stance to Chabris and Simons. Since they write partly in response to him, they do actually refer to his works, but it was intriguing since I had no idea what I was getting into in the first place.

The authors are experimental psychologists who have built on the work of Ulric Neisser with regard to change blindness. They took the results of their studies to write, as the subtitle states, about ways that intuitions deceive people. This, in opposition to Gladwell's idea that often a gut reflex is more or equally trustworthy than protracted analysis. But they base their position on the fact that such reflexes rely heavily on certain beliefs about the way that our minds work which may not necessarily be true.

Chabris and Simons deal specifically with six illusions: attention, memory, confidence, potential, cause, and knowledge. They discuss ways that each illusion tricks us into believing ourselves more capable than we are, sometimes with serious consequences as in the case of an overconfident witness in a rape trial.

It's pretty interesting stuff, although I was a bit disheartened to think about all of the ways that I'm tricking myself. There were some pretty keen insights that tried to answer questions I've asked of myself but never quite been able to respond to, and hey, fortunately for me, I am brilliant so obviously none of those illusions apply to me anyway. (This example of the illusion of knowledge/confidence brought to you by the Optimists' Club of America)


billy said...

this sounds really interesting. in my law school trial advocacy class we were told over and over again that eyewitness testimony is both the most trusted and least reliable form of evidence; it sounds like this book delves into the science behind that assertion.

Brent Waggoner said...


Christy said...

They do discuss a few legal cases where eyewitness testimony was the hinging factor, and in different contexts (of the specific two that I recall, one was regarding memory, the other confidence). After reading, I confess that I was rather grateful for the rise of DNA and other forensic evidence, given how untrustworthy we seem to be.