The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam

When you sit and think about your brain, life gets existential very quickly. Your brain is thinking about itself. How can it do that? The brain is an extremely complex organ. In the computer and internet age, we constantly hear about the impressive advancements in computing technology, but even the most powerful computer in the world cannot challenge the power of the human brain.

To put in simply, your brain has two systems. One system does the thinking, rationalizing, and the complex refereeing. The other system is much more reactive; almost automatic and animalistic in nature. This system is the hidden brain. It works constantly without drawing attention. It is the system that senses danger before you understand it. It is also the system that causes you to make stupid assumptions despite your knowledge.

I first learned about The Hidden Brain through Shankar Vedantam’s podcast of the same name. I love the unique stories and the science behind it all. After a few years of listening, I finally grabbed the book that started it all.

This is a really interesting book with a couple of faults. One, Vedantam gets a little too focused on the stories and not invested enough in the science. The stories are very fascinating but there was very little scientific discussion at the conclusion of each story. In the same vein, I found other books to be a little more informative and interesting. This may not be a fair assessment since this book was published over ten years ago at the time of this reading, but for what it’s worth find Daniel Kahneman’s work to be more enlightening when it comes to the two systems of the brain.