Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err is Human

Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err is Human

by Michael Kaplan, Ellen Kaplan


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Our species is apparently hardwired to get things wrong in myriad ways. Why did recipients of a loan offer accept a higher interest rate when a pretty woman's face was printed on the flyer? What made four ace fighter pilots fly their planes, in formation, straight into the ground? Why does giving someone power make him more likely to chew with his mouth open? And why is your sister going out with that biker dude?

In fact, our cognitive, logical, and romantic failures might actually be the price of our extraordinary success as a species. Are mistakes the handmaiden of adaptability? Bozo Sapiens swoops effortlessly across neurochemistry, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, and a host of other disciplines to answer, with clarity and wit, the questions above-and larger ones about what it means to be human.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608190911
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 08/17/2010
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 601,130
Product dimensions: 8.48(w) x 11.04(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

Ellen and Michael Kaplan are mother and son, and co-authors of the bestseller Chances Are...: Adventures in Probability. Michael is an award-winning writer and filmmaker for corporations, governments, museums, and charities, and lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with his wife and son. Ellen Kaplan is an archaeologist and math teacher.

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By Michael Kaplan Ellen Kaplan


Copyright © 2009 Michael and Ellen Kaplan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59691-400-1

Chapter One

From the Logbook of the Ship of Fools

Truth has an uncorrupted kingly bloodline; yet our world seems peopled with Error's bastards. Wrong thinking, reasoning that could never stand up to scrutiny, is universal and nearly constant. Why? Merely doubting is not a sufficient test to drive out error; nor is the classical machinery of formal logic. The Baconian revolution, however, established the scientific method and gave us a way to put ideas-in any language, at any scale-through the test of truthfulness. But this is a method we consistently fail to use in daily life, not just because it's a troublesome yoke, but because we don't naturally think that way. So is it more natural to be wrong? We'll see.

* * *

Stupidity does not consist in being without ideas-that would be the sweet, blissful stupidity of animals, molluscs and the gods. Human stupidity consists in having lots of ideas, but stupid ones. -HENRY DE MONTHERLANT, Carnets


People-other people, that is-make such stupid, easily avoided mistakes and never seem to learn from them. Try as you might tosupport the "in apprehension how like a god" theory of humanity, you're struck almost immediately by some counterexample that puts "quintessence of dust" back in the top billing. If we were indeed made in the divine image, it must have been when the Creator had misplaced his glasses.

This puts us humans in the unique position of being constantly disappointed in ourselves, expecting a higher standard of reasoning and behavior than we ever actually achieve. "Well, duh" has become an accepted term in debate presuming simultaneously that the truth will be obvious and that everyone will miss it. We easily spot and gleefully point out the fatuities of our opponents-and wonder, in lonely midnight hours, whether we ourselves are any less absurd. Error is democratic and egalitarian: go scrutinize the opinions of even the best educated, and you will find them still largely a patchwork of hearsay, authority, prejudice, and self-accommodation; basic illogicalities prevail alike in the labs of MIT as in the stands at World Wrestling Entertainment. Such universal dopiness (or, to give it its traditional name, "vulgar error") is not just a matter of being mistaken about the unknown-through excusable ignorance of string theory, say, or counterpoint, or Kierkegaard; no, it's being bald-facedly wrong in familiar things we say and do every day. We shamelessly yield to impulse and invent reasons afterward. We impute motives to distant figures and events of which, despite the global wash of media, we really know almost nothing. We shift our grounds, making the same issue a matter of fact or of principle as it suits our local purpose ("I'm a true believer, so my beliefs must be true"). We allow others to impose on us with slippery rhetoric and bogus statistics ("all real Americans will support me": "200 percent lower prices!"). We cower from difficult truths and cry after comforting illusions. And yet, astonishingly, here we still are-the masters of creation. For idiots, we have been remarkably successful: our grand entrances may start on a banana peel, our sweeping exits lead into a closet, but we are the stars of this show.

The problem, like most, goes back to Genesis. The Bible has human history begin with a blunder: coming to know, through a temporary lapse in divine discipline, the difference between right and wrong. That blunder was the parent of all subsequent faults, errors, mistakes, and gaffes-because to know is to be allowed choice; and to choose is to have the option of choosing badly, assuming falsely, and indulging in all manner of specious self-justification. Since the exile from Eden, Right and Wrong have remained our intimate companions, presiding over every exalted and trivial thing we do, from declaring war to guessing the answer on game shows. Error is something that we both casually expect and find alarming to the point of apocalyptic despair.

"As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise?" Solomon was neither first nor last to worry about this: throughout humankind's triumphant progress similarly grim prophets have reminded us that our basic senselessness (now compounded by vast power) may soon lead us over the precipice. Yet despite these constant warnings we can never be sure exactly which of our many errors is the basic one, the fault we ought to tackle preferentially: Meat-eating during Lent or not feeding the hungry? Sloth or excessive energy consumption? Our fractured family or our divided society? It's not surprising that, when the English Protestants first made confession public, they also had to make it all-encompassingly general: "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us." Well, it's a start, at least.

Our dilemma may simply be a matter of probabilities: the intrinsic difference in likelihood between the one right way and many wrong ones. The path of righteousness is straight and narrow, but error can wander all over the plain. On one hand, we have the valid, the true, and the good: desirable ends, but only three. On the other, we have legion: bilge, bunk, and bosh; FUBB, FUBAR, and SNAFU; hokum, hooey, and humbug; rimble-ramble, whiffle-waffle, and yawp. Having set down our few commandments, we open myriad opportunities to screw them up.

This idea was given a sharp point by the Italian economist Carlo Cipolla in his essay "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity." Cipolla observed that the bad is statistically more likely than the good. Of the four categories of human-which he calls the helpless, the intelligent, the bandit, and the stupid-three are composed of people destined by character to cause harm to others, themselves, or both. Cipolla's further laws establish that there is a constant irreducible proportion of stupidity in any human group (he includes college professors and Nobel laureates); that an observer will always underestimate the amount of stupidity in circulation and its power to do harm; and that the stupid person is the most dangerous of all, both because he does not intend the actual results of his actions and because stupid deeds by definition produce no benefit for anyone. "Day after day, with unceasing monotony, one is harassed in one's activities by stupid individuals who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in the most inconvenient places and at the most improbable moments." The reader chuckles, but not overloudly-this is too familiar.

Error is pervasive: it seeps into thought, word, and deed. It is universal: there are no Happy Isles where humankind is free of it. And like all blemishes, it is more obvious in others than in oneself. No wonder then that there have been so many attempts throughout history to free us from it.


In a world of stupid beliefs, doubt is the beginning of wisdom: if you can see that your neighbor's ideas have no Foundation, you can at least avoid going inside them, even if that leaves you no place to live yourself. The Han dynasty scholar Wang Chong (a familiar university-town figure-prickly and poor, haunter of tea shops and secondhand bookstalls) had a keen nose for nonsense, and found much to offend it in the China of his time. The imperial government, first to rule over the whole Middle Kingdom, was constantly battling barbarians without and rebels within; under this stress a centralizing instinct (always strong in Chinese history) had condensed government, culture, and religion into a single lump of doctrine, to be swallowed whole. Confucianism, once a humanistic search after the harmonious life, had shrunk to a state church with Confucius promoted to godhead. Taoism, once a spiritual quest for tranquility in the flux of existence, had coarsened into a species of alchemy, touting secret immorality powders and condemning future generations to the rigors of feng shui. Official thinking was absurd and self-contradictory; but it was official, so anyone who went against it would need to be willing to seem awkward-and willing to stay poor. This was a job for Wang Chong.

His Lun Heng, or Critical Essays, ran through the body of contemporary superstition and muzzy thinking in eighty-five righteously indignant chapters. He asked, for instance, why aren't ghosts naked? The clothes of the dead had no vital force that would permit them to return. If setting up an earthenware dragon attracts rain, why wasn't the dragon-obsessed Duke of She, whose palace was entrusted with the things, flooded out? Lao Tzu says we attain great age by banishing ambition, yet many ambitious men live to be a hundred, while plants, seemingly the least ambitious of living beings, perish in a season. In a culture obsessed with signs and portents, Wang Chong's unwelcome message was the basic indifference of a world on which we live "as lice do on the human body." It's pointless inventing supernatural powers and beings: once you admit that at least some things just happen, you have lost any sure way to distinguish divine will from pure chance. Good and bad things occur everywhere in all ages. Why, then, is your good fortune a reward from God while your neighbor was merely lucky? When, say, Pat Robertson claimed to be able to steer hurricanes away from his broadcasting studios through the power of prayer, the Wang Chong question would be, "What about the other lives and property destroyed by hurricanes? Did these all belong to people who failed the prayer test?"

But even as he battled accepted foolishness, Wang Chong himself suffered from a fatal deficiency: he had nothing to put in its place. Some concepts might seem less vulnerable to doubt than others, but he had no uniform standards by which to test them. He was not even able to separate the two essential types of doubt: doubt from inconsistency and doubt from improbability-that is, things that don't fit what you've said versus things that don't fit what I've seen. What he needed was some kind of philosopher's stone to find the sense within nonsense, to tell meaning from meaninglessness.

Had he found the works of Aristotle on a bookseller's stall, he would have been able to take this next step. Aristotle holds a solar position in the history of thought: he is the source of illumination for so many subjects and the gravitational center around which so much later work revolved. His genius was method, sorting the richness of experience into logical categories and ordering these categories into chains of causality. The habit your science teacher insisted on, of defining your terms and specifying the relation between those terms before you went on, is a legacy from Aristotle, providing not just a powerful educational tool but also the means to isolate the valid from the fallacious in reasoning and speech-means we still use today in every lecture hall, courtroom, and debating chamber.

Aristotle's own teacher, Plato, had lacked such a method. He would ask, through the literary medium of Socrates, questions of the form "what actually is ...?" What is Virtue? What is the Good? What is the true meaning of these big concepts we all bring so easily and so unthinkingly into our conversation? It was no good saying, "Well, Themistocles is good; Aristides is virtuous." Examples are not explanations, any more than the scrawled diagram on the blackboard really is the proof in geometry. Plato's disputants constantly came up against this problem, because the most interesting ideas usually resonate beyond any explanation. Words indicate things they cannot contain. Often, the dialogues trail off into a state that contemporary rhetoric called aporia-the realization that there is no more that can be said. Not, for any Greek, a happy ending.

Plato's response to this embarrassing lack of a reliable clincher in argument was to posit, somewhere outside human existence, a world of Forms: perfect originals of which everything we see is a flawed copy. Forms relate to each other only one way-the right way, which we could confidently call Truth ... if only we knew it. We come into this life having already known the Forms, so our ability to assign abstract qualities to things is a kind of remembering, a fleeting connection to the ideal knowledge we once held, shining and complete, in our bodiless minds. Stupid or unthinking people have simply forgotten more, and so are best governed by means of "noble lies"; people who love truth are more fit to rule as philosopher-kings, because they at least are more aware of what they have forgotten. All err, but at least the aristoi know they do. Well, yes-but determining who genuinely remembers most about the Forms is not a straightforward business: even Socrates' closest companions regularly found themselves at odds. What was really needed was a test that anyone, regardless of his degree of forgetfulness, could use to decide whether a given statement is valid or not.

Aristotle came up with the answer, and his solution was the one that works so often in mathematics: he turned the problem on its head. He reasoned, not from Form to example, but from example to form, from the world's things (nouns) to its qualities (adjectives). He left aside the absolute meaning of terms to concentrate on their use. Does this adjective red properly apply to this noun chair? Can it extend to include other nouns-table, flag, China? Does it encompass or nest within some other adjective-scarlet, say, or colored? If you take this noun-adjective relationship and then add four functional connectors-all, some, not all, none-and tie them up with the conclusive therefore, you will have all the tools you need to do formal deductive logic, the method we still use to decide whether a statement is valid; that is, whether it is consistent with a previous statement or line of argument.

It's a powerful technique. If I claim "all animals move," or "none are immortal," you call explode either of those statements forever with a single counterexample. Or say I propose the following syllogism:

1. All terrorists are extremists.

2. Omar is an extremist.

3. Therefore Omar is a terrorist.

You can expose the flaw in my reasoning by, for instance, pointing out that it is formally identical to "all chimpanzees eat bananas; my brother eats bananas; therefore ..." Assuming you had read your Aristotle, you could casually mention that I had just committed the Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle, and that it is one of around twenty similar dodges (including the Illicit Minor, the Masked Man fallacy, and even the Fallacy fallacy) by which devious or ignorant wheedlers try to get you to agree that the world is divided up in ways it isn't or that properties of one thing can be transferred to another, when they can't. Such fallacies are the code violations of formal logic: once you spot one, you have condemned the whole jerry-built argument. The structure is clearly unfit for use; your opponent will have to take it down and construct another.

Aristotle was, in fact, too experienced a man to expect real people to actually argue using formal logic. He knew that speakers rely as much on appearance as on substance, just as "physically some people are in a vigorous condition, while others merely seem to be so by blowing and rigging themselves out as the tribesmen do their victims for sacrifice." So to help us tell the mental athlete from the mere blowhard, he wrote On Sophistical Refutations, a handbook of rhetorical fakery as applicable now as it was in the fourth century B.C. It lists in order the various verbal equivalents of bustles, toupees, and elevator shoes that sophists use to tart up their unappealing doctrines. It covers question-begging, weak analogies, false generalizations, ad hominem arguments, appeals to force-all the slippery faults that, in logical terms, are not even wrong. In Sophistical Refutations, we have a catalog of every type of evasive maneuver, from amphibology ("I am opposed to war which dishonors our country"-comma, or no comma?) to tu quoque ("who are you to tell me drinking is harmful? You're a lush."). When you sense that some slick demagogue knows every trick in the book ... this is the book.


Excerpted from BOZO SAPIENS by Michael Kaplan Ellen Kaplan Copyright © 2009 by Michael and Ellen Kaplan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword v

Chapter I From the Logbook of the Ship of Fools 1

Chapter II Idols of the Marketplace 19

Chapter III Tinted Glasses 67

Chapter IV Off the Rails 111

Chapter V One of Us 151

Chapter VI Fresh off the Pleistocene Bus 183

Chapter VII Living Right 221

Notes 253

Index 280

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Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err is Human 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Kari13 More than 1 year ago
Bozo Sapiens is very informative and useful yet is interesting enough that the reader does not lose interest. One is constantly having to reevaluate the way they think about and see the world throughout the book. It is a must-read for any intellectual, scholar, or professional. While it is interesting, I wouldn't recommend it for a casual reader, it is just a shade to deep and complicated for light reading.
rivkat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Free LibraryThing early reviewer book. So, I read a lot of these books popularizing behavioral psychology. If you haven¿t read any, this might be an interesting introduction, if you like the angle (various different kinds of stupid decisions, beyond the economic, along with failures to perceive reality) and if you don¿t mind a certain purple tinge, or lushness if you prefer, to the prose. If you¿ve read one, then you¿ll probably see some stuff you¿ve already seen and some new takes. If you¿ve read two, the ratio of new to old will continue to deteriorate, and if you¿ve read three, this is almost certainly not the book for you.
browndog221 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bozo Sapiens is the type of book that seems to be all the rage right now. Its pop-science and psych subject laced with humor appears to be the kind of nonfiction everyone wants to read. Instead of boring the public with myriad technical jargon and arcane language, Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan focus on examples to explain their subjects. It's interesting to read about why we make errors. However, the book suggests that we're still going to make those errors, regardless of our awareness of them. It's too bad the authors couldn't have given more advice for us in certain situations. Nevertheless, reading Bozo Sapiens is enlightening. I highly recommend it.
Diwanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me a long time to pick through this book, but it was well worth it. Maybe, since I've recently read a couple books on a similar subject, I did not find this book to be too revealing. I did absolutely love the chapter On of Us. What a timely bit of writing! This chapter alone should be read by everyone in the world. It summarizes something I've been thinking for a long time, that anyone can put differences aside, no matter how great, for the common good. Not an earth-shattering concept, but it is this Us vs Them mentality that may soon be the end of the human race. A worthwhile book with many great examples, scientific study references, and whatnot, highly recommended
bragan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Authors Kaplan and Kaplan look at the various ways in which we fallible human beings are prone to errors of perception, memory, thought, and more. I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book. To begin with, the authors have an inordinate fondness for allusions and quotations of varying degrees of relevance and obscurity, to the point where it sits right on the borderline between entertaining and annoying. And the first couple of chapters, while interesting enough, felt a bit disorganized to me. Discussions of different points tend to blur together slightly, with some ideas explored in detail complete with scientific evidence, others asserted without offering real support, and still others only mentioned in passing, leaving the reader to wonder what the full story behind them is. Then there's the penultimate chapter, which deals with how our evolutionary history as hunter-gatherers affects our current lives in such areas as romance, food, and child-rearing. These are relevant topics, but they seem a little too tangential to the main thrust of the book to receive such detailed treatment, and while I don't really disagree with most of it, I do think that particular chapter blends science, speculation, and the authors' personal views about modern society just a little too freely. (You could probably say the same, to a lesser extent, about the final chapter, which deals with morality, altruism, emotions, power, and how to get along with other people in human society. But I do think it also contains much that is worthwhile, and even somewhat inspiring.)So, that's the (mildly) negative. On the positive side, the book is very readable, quote-happy tendencies aside. It contains a lot of interesting scientific information, some thought-provoking ideas, and a few really insightful thoughts. Those looking for a more focused take on the subject of how and why the brains that evolved to help us get laid and keep us from getting eaten by tigers aren't necessarily the most reliable tools for discovering the objective truth of the world might prefer something like Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational. But Bozo Sapiens, with its broad view, its readable style, and its interest in social issues, does provide a worthwhile introduction to the topic. Which, by the way, is a topic that I firmly believe everyone should be introduced to. How can you possibly begin to understand the universe, after all, without understanding the limits of the brain with which you perceive and analyze the universe?
pandorasmuse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received a copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.Bozo Sapiens was an interesting book that couldn¿t decide how deeply to delve into its subject matter. I felt like the first few chapters were more densely informational, while later chapters gave their focus a superficial treatment. I came away from this with a lot of sound bites and factoids, but I feel a deeper understanding of the human brain has escaped me. I am curious to do further reading on this subjec ...more I received a copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.Bozo Sapiens was an interesting book that couldn¿t decide how deeply to delve into its subject matter. I felt like the first few chapters were more densely informational, while later chapters gave their focus a superficial treatment. I came away from this with a lot of sound bites and factoids, but I feel a deeper understanding of the human brain has escaped me. I am curious to do further reading on this subject, although I'll admit that evolutionary psychology makes me wary.The end of the book was very abrupt, much as the transition to this paragraph is. I prefer a little more analysis wrapping up a book with such a sweeping subject.I think that Bozo Sapiens would be better appreciated as a bag of snacks¿have one or two at a time, but don't rush through the whole thing in one sitting. There is interesting information to be had here¿just don't expect too much depth. It's brain candy. I think I'll keep this around and refer to it from time to time, but I doubt I'll read through the whole thing again.My big takeaway is the world isn't what you think. Or it's exactly what you think, depending on how you look at it.
Sovranty on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book felt like an overview rather than one offering new ideas and/or research. This is a great first book to read, if you are just starting to delve into the world of behavioral sociology/psychology and evolutionary adaptation of the human mind. If you are familiar with the subject(s), the book serves as a great reference as it culminates many of the familiar experiments and theories found in other books. It was an easy read; however, it became difficult to grasp in some areas due to the ever-changing level of evidence and description. One idea might be exampled down to the Latin name of the body part, while the next is left in the ether without speculation. The reader is lead down the path of microscopy only to find it had nothing to do with the following macroscopic idea.
drneutron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bozo Sapiens is a pretty good introduction to decision-making, how it can go wrong, and more importantly, *why* it can go so very wrong. The Kaplans start with basic logic and logical fallacies (don't panic, they don't go very deep!) and through a somewhat wandering approach go through brain physiology and evolutionary arguments to discuss error in thinking, both at the individual and group levels. A dash of humor and a few stories add spice to the discussion and keep us out of the realm of the dry and dusty textbook.Bozo Sapiens is what I call a "nugget book". The material is presented in short segments that flow from one to the other as a winding almost-conversation on the subject at hand, usually ending up somewhere the reader doesn't expect. They do this reasonably well, but I did feel on occasion that the nuggets could have been a tad deeper - it's ok, after all, to present an overall description of major brain physiology in a book that purports to explain errors in thinking through discussion of brain function. Instead, the authors toss off a short description of, say, the segment of brain they're discussing, and leave the reader to do a bit of research if more is wanted. This isn't a big deal for the book, since they offer a good set of notes for further exploration. There's also surprisingly less discussion in the book of ways to compensate for imperfect decision-making than I thought there would be.Anyone looking for a decent way to dip into the subject of thought processes and decision-making ought to check out Bozo Sapiens. It's a quick read, but packs a lot of information into such a small package.
figre on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great book.It is a fascinating amalgam of scientific facts which come together to tell different stories of why we are human. (Okay, the book is ostensibly about explaining why we, as humans, make errors ¿ some obvious errors, but we still make them. However, let¿s face it ¿ that is being human, making errors.) It begins at the very basic, why we can¿t seem to make rational decisions (including such classics as Maurice Allais¿ paradox; the failures of economics when it meets reality, and why we buy), moves through such areas as how the brain really works and the psychology behind our comfort levels (including discussions of how one Soviet may have saved the world because he didn¿t push the button as he was ordered to because it didn¿t ¿feel¿ right vs. the Russian pilot who shot down a jet liner because he was ¿supposed to push that button¿ even though logic showed it was the wrong thing to do.) It then moves into our discomfort with ¿others¿, then all the way into how are ancestors hard-wired us to react the ways we do. It then ends at the most esoteric end of the scale ¿ how we are actually bred to try and be nice.These quick notes do not do this book justice. Throughout it quotes studies and findings which weave a fascinating story of why we react the way we do. Extensive footnotes and notes are available to anyone who wants to know more.What I want to know is where I can get more of the authors¿ books.
buchowl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A delight of a book.I remember taking my first social psychology course and having constant "ah-ha" moments of "that's why (other?!) people do such illogical things". This book evoked the same feeling. Here evolutionary psychology meets neuroscience meets game theory, etc. - basically a synopsis of my undergrad psych degree (without the boring statistics classes). Informative, well-cited and outright hilarious (I very much enjoyed the Kaplans way of turning a phrase), this book is a great introduction to the paradox that is being human. I absolutely loved it and would recommend it to anyone interested in a lighthearted look at human nature.
etsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Are humans hardwired to act stupid? Has evolution created humans that behave irrationally in the modern context? Bozo Sapiens suggests that the answer is yes and provides abundant and interesting examples to back up the claim.The book begins, "People--other people that is, makes such stupid easily avoided mistakes and never seem to learn from them." The book is a veritable catalog of human errors based in our stone age hardwiring. We misjudge risk, make unwarranted assumptions about others and foolishly gamble hard earned cash on lottery tickets when the odds are so clearly stacked against us.Are homo sapiens all bozos? To err is human, it is true. We are touchingly vulnerable to impulsive purchases based on "sale" prices, transparently impossible political appeals and attractive members of the opposite sex. We are often self-deluded and hopeful when we should be wary. This provides us with our most comedic and tragic cultural narratives from the Odyssey to the present. Indeed, this is why we go to the theater and enjoy songs about lost love and hard luck. And yet, calling us bozos seems to be a cheap shot. A good look at the human condition calls for compassion and understanding and in this Bozo Sapiens fails. This is a highly readable account of the pleistocene brain meeting the modern world with a lot of good stories thrown in. I'd recommend it for the curious, casual reader. For more meaty treatments of the subject, I recommend Joseph LeDoux's "Emotional Brain" and Matthew Ridley's recent "The Rational Optimist."
cmbohn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First of all - nice title. I probably wouldn't have picked it up if not for the title.As the subtitle suggests, this is an attempt to explain human behavior, especially DUMB human behavior. Why do we take so many risks? Why do we procrastinate? Overeat? Cheat on spouses? Fall for get-rich-quick schemes? Succumb to mob mentality? There are a lot of reasons, but most of them have to do with the brain.I enjoyed this book. The part about economics was interesting, in light of the current recession and my own financial bind. It helped me to see money a little differently, in terms of what I am using for and what I really want from my purchases. And the part about nutrition and eating habits was really useful, as I am on a diet - again - and trying to get serious about it this time. Apparently, the normal human condition is hungry. So trying to stuff that down with food every time it surfaces is going to inevitably lead to weight gain, because no matter how much you eat, you will still feel hunger now and then.I enjoyed the book, and I did learn something from it. One minor quibble is that I would have liked to see an index, but maybe that will be there in the final edition, as I read the advance copy. Overall though, I'm not sure how much this book is as insightful as it wanted to be. It was fun, but I'm not sure it was deep.
jxn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This work is full of fascinating little tidbits from a great expanse of information related to the many types of errors that humans commonly make--judgment, memory, biases, and so on. The Kaplans are clearly nothing if not intelligent and chock-full of insight on this topic. Their book overlaps into so many areas of human experience that it is a great starting point for many good discussions. That said, attempting to cover, at least in representative pockets, the gamut of common human errors is perhaps this work's greatest flaw. Frankly, it's an overly ambitious goal, and while hte authors admit to not being exhaustive, there is enough material in the book that it perhaps would have to double in size or take on a few more volumes for a few components of the discussion to be thorough enough to warrant teasing the reader with in the first place. A couple of other books are made on topics that seem to be covered in a quick glance (for instance, The Tipping Point, Freakonomics, Black Swan, The Drunkard's Walk, Predictably Irrational, and so-on, along with a healthy troupe of other pop-economics/psychology/science/philosophy/ethics/business books). The problem becomes that a few topics are given inadequate grounding or have to be explained in half sentence without much analysis. There were even a handful of topics which seemed to be alluded to only as a slight joke or through the use of some unexplained key term. While I was keen enough to pick up on a number of these, I do wonder how many explanations would have been better filled-out if I had recognized the clandestine shibboleth thrown into a sentence. On the plus side, these kinds of clues are a bit of fun and speak to the authors' acuity and respect for the reader's keenness as well, but on the negative side hints like these often only fully explain things to readers who already comprehend them. More troublesome, though, was the book's organization issues. Again perhaps largely because of the ridiculous scope of the topic, it strikes me that effective and coherent organization of a work like this could be very difficult, and I think the final product of Bozo Sapiens verifies this to a fair degree. Especially near the beginning, there appears to be little logic to the system of organization. The book is divided into chapters and little subsections that perhaps bear some loose categorical resemblance to the main chapter (the middle of the work is a bit more coherent in this regard), but really I found it as easy to read a few of these subsections at random--as if they were little news blurbs--as I found it to read the book through. True, these little subsections are interesting and insightful in their own regard and generally speaking independent of each other, making them quite useful. However, their independence from each other contributes to a disorienting sense while reading the book through from beginning to end.To make a long review short: the information is primarily valuable for being insightful, and potentially problematic for being not discussed thoroughly enough (due to the ambitious scope), and the organization could use a fine-tuning still. Still, a worthwhile read for the insight it provides if one approaches it more like a potpourri of knowledge about error rather than a book making a point or to be studied as a text (or a guide/handbook as the authors seem to want to make it).
HilaryF on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bozo Sapiens was very fun. With "Why to Err is Human" in the title I expected something a little more technical and negative toward humanity. It wasn't like that at all. Instead of giving technical explanations about how the brain works, the book gave me lots of everyday scenarios about why we do the things we do. I especially enjoyed a section early on in the book that talked about how seeing and hearing are believing; I am going to butcher the delivery, but it cited a study in which a subject watched a video of the back of their head while in virtual reality goggles and actually felt and believed they were having and out of body experience. It also mentioned how when we listen to music we hear things like "hold me closer Tony Danza" while Elton John croons Tiny Dancer, and we don't think twice about the lyrics not making sense, we just sing along. This book was an interesting yet easy read. I felt like it got a little bit repetitive at times, but beside that I enjoyed it and learned a lo from it about why we behave the way we do
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a treat. As the title suggests, this book is both scientific and funny -- a hard trick to pull off. It addresses incredibly serious questions about human nature, but in such a light-hearted, clever way and with such interesting stories that it just sails along. And it left me feeling like I understand humanity a little better (and like it more).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago