13 August 2012

Subliminal - Leonard Mlodinow (2012)

Subliminal is subtitled 'How Your Subconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior' and the dustjacket features some subtle text (distinguished from the background by being a bit shinier) that says 'Pssst... Hey There Yes: You, Sexy. Buy This Book Now. You Know You Want It.' This marketing ploy is a bit of a giveaway that this book is basically reviewing old tricks, not exploring new ground. The subtitle harkens back to books of the 1970s like 'Subliminal Seduction', a supposed investigation of such advertising techniques.

However - the notion of the subconscious is indeed interesting. The book mostly explores existing research on all sorts of brain/mind processing that is going on that we are not consciously aware of, yet seems to greatly influence our decision-making. Such as the finding that IPOs of companies with complicated names seem to perform worse than those of companies with easy-to-say names. Such as the subtle cues of social dominance that pervade human interactions. And so on...

Overall I'd compare this book to 'Brain Wars' - it's again a nice overview for those new to the subject, but probably not worth the time of folks who've read in the field already. The good news is that after a long period where science essentially ignored the idea of the subconscious, it is now a pretty hot area of research.

The area where I'd like to see more research on is about the process of learning which proceeds from conscious study and concentration to eventual near-unconscious mastery. How does this work? How does one feed more processing into the subconscious? Can subconscious processing be 'overridden' by conscious effort over time?

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