“The Blindspots Between Us”

Gleb Tsipursky

This is one of those books where I wind up with a whole bunch of notes. Cognitive science: it’s neat stuff!

As with most of my reading, I have no idea when, where, or why I got this book; based on the title, I wasn’t quite expecting cognitive psychology, particularly not in a self-help sort of manner. Broadly, each segment is “here’s this problem that you have, because you’re a human and that’s just how human brains work; here’s some approaches you can take to mitigate that problem.”

The word ‘mitigate’ is important in there, though: there’s not a magic solution to any of these biases.1 The best you can do is be aware of these evolutionary foibles and try to catch yourself when they’re happening.

A thought that kept coming to mind, all the way through this book, was how much it reminded me of some of the excerpts of Tim Urban’s What’s Our Problem? that I’ve read. In his case, he uses a division between a Scientist Brain and a Caveman Brain, roughly; here, it’s the Autopilot System and the Intentional System. I tend to think of it as a three-part split, between lizard brain, monkey brain, and person brain, although that does present the issue of the person brain being outnumbered by the other two. On the other hand, maybe you should feel a bit outnumbered; the person brain is the slow one, whereas monkey and lizard brain are progressively faster.

Regardless, there’s a split between your higher-order thinking, stuff that makes it possible for us to, y’know, gestures at modern civilization, and the lower-order stuff that kept us alive through the majority of human history, before all the conveniences of modern life. Evolution is slow to change, and hasn’t even begun to catch up to what life is like now; and, back in the caveman days, the caveman who stopped to contemplate the social implications of running from the oncoming lion had lower odds of survival than the one who was in a dead sprint before the expensive, slow higher-order consciousness had even parsed that particular blur as “lion.”

This book is basically a list of ways that those monkey-brain reflexes trip us up in modern life, and hints for helping your person-brain deal with it. Which is, overall, quite a useful thing to be able to do! As a book, I mostly enjoyed reading it—it does have Self-Help Book Syndrome, wherein it provides a bunch of examples that are occasionally useful but mostly just come across as stilted and unhelpful—and recommend it. Check it out.2

  1. Well, as of this writing there isn’t. By the time you’re reading this, maybe we figured out some kind of brain implant technology that makes us all better at thinking about stuff. I can dream.
  2. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.