This book is a great synthesis of a whole lot of psychological research on human fallacies – errors in deduction, induction, memory, etc., and what it means in terms of how we predict or, more often, mis-predict the future, though the implications of the research are wider than that. Gilbert’s style is breezy and humorous (though some of the jokes are a little asinine) and makes for a clipping read.
His basic premise is that the human imagination has three shortcomings:
- its tendency to fill in some details and omit others, which gives a misleading picture of what the future could be like,
- its tendency to project the present onto the future, so that your present state of mind colours your picture of the future even when it has no real relevance to the situation, and
- its failure to recognise that things will look different once they happen, in particular, that bad things don’t seem so bad when they happen – human beings have a natural resilience they don’t see when imagining bad things happening.
Peppered with interesting facts and anecdotes besides synthesising the academic findings, I thought this was a great book and I very much enjoyed reading it. At least, I remember enjoying reading it – after reading this book, you’ll trust your memory a lot less than you used to. In the last chapter, Gilbert suggests a solution to overcome the shortcomings of the imagination, but as he says, it’s not a very satisfying solution and just about everyone will ignore it anyway. Still, it’s good to just be aware that everything may not be as your brain is telling you and to stop and consider other sides of the situation. Very much recommended.