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Black-And-White Thinking: The Burden of a Binary Brain in a Complex World

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A groundbreaking and timely book about how evolutionary biology can explain our black-and-white brains, and a lesson in how we can escape the pitfalls of binary thinking. Several million years ago, natural selection equipped us with binary, black-and-white brains. Though the world was arguably simpler back then, it was in many ways much more dangerous. Not coincidentally, t A groundbreaking and timely book about how evolutionary biology can explain our black-and-white brains, and a lesson in how we can escape the pitfalls of binary thinking. Several million years ago, natural selection equipped us with binary, black-and-white brains. Though the world was arguably simpler back then, it was in many ways much more dangerous. Not coincidentally, the binary brain was highly adept at detecting risk: the ability to analyze threats and respond to changes in the sensory environment--a drop in temperature, the crack of a branch--was essential to our survival as a species. Since then, the world has evolved--but we, for the most part, haven't. Confronted with a panoply of shades of gray, our brains have a tendency to "force quit: " to sort the things we see, hear, and experience into manageable but simplistic categories. We stereotype, pigeon-hole, and, above all, draw lines where in reality there are none. In our modern, interconnected world, it might seem like we are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face--that living with a binary brain is like trying to navigate a teeming city center with a map that shows only highways. In Black-and-White Thinking, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton pulls back the curtains of the mind to reveal a new way of thinking about a problem as old as humanity itself. While our instinct for categorization often leads us astray, encouraging polarization, rigid thinking, and sometimes outright denialism, it is an essential component of the mental machinery we use to make sense of the world. Simply put, unless we perceived our environment as a chessboard, our brains wouldn't be able to play the game. Using the latest advances in psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology, Dutton shows how we can optimize our tendency to categorize and fine-tune our minds to avoid the pitfalls of too little, and too much, complexity. He reveals the enduring importance of three "super categories"--fight or flight, us versus them, and right or wrong--and argues that they remain essential to not only convincing others to change their minds but to changing the world for the better. Black-and-White Thinking is a scientifically informed wake-up call for an era of increasing extremism and a thought-provoking, uplifting guide to training our gray matter to see that gray really does matter.


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A groundbreaking and timely book about how evolutionary biology can explain our black-and-white brains, and a lesson in how we can escape the pitfalls of binary thinking. Several million years ago, natural selection equipped us with binary, black-and-white brains. Though the world was arguably simpler back then, it was in many ways much more dangerous. Not coincidentally, t A groundbreaking and timely book about how evolutionary biology can explain our black-and-white brains, and a lesson in how we can escape the pitfalls of binary thinking. Several million years ago, natural selection equipped us with binary, black-and-white brains. Though the world was arguably simpler back then, it was in many ways much more dangerous. Not coincidentally, the binary brain was highly adept at detecting risk: the ability to analyze threats and respond to changes in the sensory environment--a drop in temperature, the crack of a branch--was essential to our survival as a species. Since then, the world has evolved--but we, for the most part, haven't. Confronted with a panoply of shades of gray, our brains have a tendency to "force quit: " to sort the things we see, hear, and experience into manageable but simplistic categories. We stereotype, pigeon-hole, and, above all, draw lines where in reality there are none. In our modern, interconnected world, it might seem like we are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face--that living with a binary brain is like trying to navigate a teeming city center with a map that shows only highways. In Black-and-White Thinking, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton pulls back the curtains of the mind to reveal a new way of thinking about a problem as old as humanity itself. While our instinct for categorization often leads us astray, encouraging polarization, rigid thinking, and sometimes outright denialism, it is an essential component of the mental machinery we use to make sense of the world. Simply put, unless we perceived our environment as a chessboard, our brains wouldn't be able to play the game. Using the latest advances in psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology, Dutton shows how we can optimize our tendency to categorize and fine-tune our minds to avoid the pitfalls of too little, and too much, complexity. He reveals the enduring importance of three "super categories"--fight or flight, us versus them, and right or wrong--and argues that they remain essential to not only convincing others to change their minds but to changing the world for the better. Black-and-White Thinking is a scientifically informed wake-up call for an era of increasing extremism and a thought-provoking, uplifting guide to training our gray matter to see that gray really does matter.

30 review for Black-And-White Thinking: The Burden of a Binary Brain in a Complex World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    Black and White Thinking: The Burden of a Binary Brain in a Complex World is a groundbreaking and timely book about how evolutionary biology can explain our black-and-white brains, and a lesson in how we can escape the pitfalls of binary thinking. Several million years ago, natural selection equipped us with binary, black-and-white brains. Though the world was arguably simpler back then, it was in many ways much more dangerous. Not coincidentally, the binary brain was highly adept at detecting r Black and White Thinking: The Burden of a Binary Brain in a Complex World is a groundbreaking and timely book about how evolutionary biology can explain our black-and-white brains, and a lesson in how we can escape the pitfalls of binary thinking. Several million years ago, natural selection equipped us with binary, black-and-white brains. Though the world was arguably simpler back then, it was in many ways much more dangerous. Not coincidentally, the binary brain was highly adept at detecting risk: the ability to analyze threats and respond to changes in the sensory environment--a drop in temperature, the crack of a branch--was essential to our survival as a species. Since then, the world has evolved--but we, for the most part, haven't. Confronted with a panoply of shades of grey, our brains have a tendency to "force quit: " to sort the things we see, hear, and experience into manageable but simplistic categories. We stereotype, pigeon-hole, and, above all, draw lines where in reality there are none. In our modern, interconnected world, it might seem like we are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face--that living with a binary brain is like trying to navigate a teeming city centre with a map that shows only highways. In Black-and-White Thinking, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton pulls back the curtains of the mind to reveal a new way of thinking about a problem as old as humanity itself. While our instinct for categorization often leads us astray, encouraging polarization, rigid thinking, and sometimes outright denialism, it is an essential component of the mental machinery we use to make sense of the world. Simply put, unless we perceived our environment as a chessboard, our brains wouldn't be able to play the game. Using the latest advances in psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology, Dutton shows how we can optimize our tendency to categorize and fine-tune our minds to avoid the pitfalls of too little, and too much, complexity. He reveals the enduring importance of three "super categories"--fight or flight, us versus them, and right or wrong--and argues that they remain essential to not only convincing others to change their minds but to changing the world for the better. Black-and-White Thinking is a scientifically informed wake-up call for an era of increasing extremism and a thought-provoking, uplifting guide to training our grey matter to see that grey really does matter. This is an absolutely fascinating read by a prominent psychologist who usually specialises in psychopathy but this is very much a departure from that topic. It's structured well, is full of fascinating information and you can tell that extensive research went into crafting the entirety of the book. There is so much to intrigue between these pages that will have your cogs whirring and you ruminating on the ideas presented. Although Dr Dutton could easily have explored this subject in such a way that a layperson or someone new to psychology and this field of study would struggle to comprehend, I feel this has been written in a straightforward and easily understandable fashion and is accessible to anyone with an interest in psychology, the psyche and the reality of our behaviour. That said, it is quite a dense read, but I was so engrossed and engaged that I went racing through it rather rapidly. If you wish to know more about the way in which our brains work when confronted with different situations then this is well worth your time; in fact, I'd recommend this highly to anyone interested in psychology. A compelling and eminently readable book. Many thanks to Bantam Press for an ARC.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mehtap exotiquetv

    Warum kategorisiert unser Gehirn? Warum sehen wir nur schwarz oder weiß und nicht die gräulichen Töne dazwischen? Was ist Sorites Paradox und inwiefern erklärt dieses Phänomen unsere nicht-Fähigkeit die Nuancen zu sehen? In diesem Buch lernt man viel über kognitive Dissonanzen!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Lambauer

    This book has a powerful thesis - namely that we cannot avoid thinking in binary categories . as the author says at the end - drawing lines is what helps us make decisions and guide us through a life of complexity. But this is precisely the problem- we create categories and see the world according to categories; even more so in the modern world of identity politics/wars. However life is a continuum and is complex. And being too entrenched in ones categories can cause democracies to fail, dictato This book has a powerful thesis - namely that we cannot avoid thinking in binary categories . as the author says at the end - drawing lines is what helps us make decisions and guide us through a life of complexity. But this is precisely the problem- we create categories and see the world according to categories; even more so in the modern world of identity politics/wars. However life is a continuum and is complex. And being too entrenched in ones categories can cause democracies to fail, dictatorships to raise. But the problem the book has is a. it says so in too many (and often meandering) ways which make it hard to follow the main thesis; and it does not quite offer a way forward . How can we learn to accept the continuum, to be open to reframing and not only if we are supersuaded by great orators?

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chris Boutté

    Right vs. wrong. Good vs. Bad. Us vs. Them. Black vs. White - All of us succumb to black and white thinking, and for many years, it was one of the biggest issues I had. I struggled so much with being able to see the nuances of situations, which ruined my relationships as well as many other aspects of my life. After years of working on myself, I've learned to see the gray areas, and it's helped me become more empathetic and tolerant of people and situations, but I'm always trying to learn more. S Right vs. wrong. Good vs. Bad. Us vs. Them. Black vs. White - All of us succumb to black and white thinking, and for many years, it was one of the biggest issues I had. I struggled so much with being able to see the nuances of situations, which ruined my relationships as well as many other aspects of my life. After years of working on myself, I've learned to see the gray areas, and it's helped me become more empathetic and tolerant of people and situations, but I'm always trying to learn more. So, when I saw that Kevin Dutton had this new book coming out in 2021, I marked my calendar and bought it the first day.  I fell in love with Kevin Dutton's work after reading his book Wisdom of Psychopaths, which teaches us that not all psychopaths are bad, and there's a spectrum. In this book, Dutton is extremely thorough and uses psychology and philosophy to help the reader understand why we're designed for black and white thinking, the pros and cons, and what we can all do about it. I hope many people read this book because I guarantee you'll walk away a more tolerant and understanding person. Not everyone is either good or bad, and neither is every situation. Sometimes, it's something in between.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eliska Herinkova

    Black and White Thinking is an incredible book, as it goes deeply into human thinking we ourselves aren’t aware of, and explains what seems non-understandable. The author is using really good and mostly contemporary examples to explain, once you understand them, interesting concepts of human thinking. I really enjoyed the examples related to Corona and Brexit, as I noticed the blurred lines in certain decisions and the “lack of logic” in some instances. I enjoyed learning while I was reading, as Black and White Thinking is an incredible book, as it goes deeply into human thinking we ourselves aren’t aware of, and explains what seems non-understandable. The author is using really good and mostly contemporary examples to explain, once you understand them, interesting concepts of human thinking. I really enjoyed the examples related to Corona and Brexit, as I noticed the blurred lines in certain decisions and the “lack of logic” in some instances. I enjoyed learning while I was reading, as a lot of concepts were new for me - I might have stumbled across them but never thought about life in that way. Definitely worth a read and I know I myself will be coming back to this book again in the future.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Ok. I didn’t get the depth I hoped for but some key takeaways was worth the relative short read. Let’s just say our brains want to place things into categories and struggle with the idea of the many shades of gray which dominate our world. Or rainbow. Or spectrum of wireless frequencies! Or political views! Great case studies. Definitely worth reading. Not sure why the 3.6 average on good reads. Need an expectation setting before any book reading! Read this if you want to have an honest perspecti Ok. I didn’t get the depth I hoped for but some key takeaways was worth the relative short read. Let’s just say our brains want to place things into categories and struggle with the idea of the many shades of gray which dominate our world. Or rainbow. Or spectrum of wireless frequencies! Or political views! Great case studies. Definitely worth reading. Not sure why the 3.6 average on good reads. Need an expectation setting before any book reading! Read this if you want to have an honest perspective at your opinions and those around you. It’s just not that simple Ever. Challenge every decision.

  7. 4 out of 5

    OD

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ştefania Mihai

  10. 4 out of 5

    Erika

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nick Rennis

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bridget MacAvoy

  13. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  14. 5 out of 5

    Absolute Error

  15. 5 out of 5

    Matt V.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Musat Bogdan

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gina Ionela

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  19. 4 out of 5

    Utkarsh

  20. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  21. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Kirdasi

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

  23. 5 out of 5

    Helen Cortezano

  24. 5 out of 5

    Shirley Noffke

  25. 4 out of 5

    Guan You

  26. 5 out of 5

    Giulia

  27. 5 out of 5

    Virginia West

  28. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra Lesenco

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jon

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