In a radical reinterpretation of how the mind works, an eminent behavioral scientist reveals the illusion of mental depth
Psychologists and neuroscientists struggle with how best to interpret human motivation and decision making. The assumption is that below a mental “surface” of conscious awareness lies a deep and complex set of inner beliefs, values, and desires that govern our thoughts, ideas, and actions, and that to know this depth is to know ourselves.
In this profoundly original book, behavioral scientist Nick Chater contends just the opposite: rather than being the plaything of unconscious currents, the brain generates behaviors in the moment based entirely on our past experiences. Engaging the reader with eye-opening experiments and visual examples, the author first demolishes our intuitive sense of how our mind works, then argues for a positive interpretation of the brain as a ceaseless and creative improviser.
About the Author
Nick Chater is professor of behavioral science at Warwick Business School and cofounder of the research consultancy Decision Technology Ltd. He has contributed to more than two hundred articles and book chapters and is author, coauthor, or coeditor of fourteen books.
“A superb exposition of scientific findings.”—Steven Poole, The Guardian
"This is a total assault on all lingering psychiatric and psychoanalytic notions of mental depths to be plumbed. For Chater, surface is everything: we are all characters of our own creation, busily creating and improvising our behaviour based on experience. Light the touchpaper and stand well back . . ."—Liz Else, New Scientist
“One of the most interesting books on the mind I have read.” —Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution blog
“The book’s sweeping investigation and hoax polemic is engaging.” —CHOICE
Winner of the 2019 PROSE awards, clinical psychology category
“An astonishing achievement. Nick Chater has blown my mind—as well as assuring me that my brain just doesn’t work the way I think it does. I haven’t been able to stop talking about the ideas in this book.”—Tim Harford, author of Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy and The Undercover Economist
“While the mind may indeed be flat in the sense of devoid of unconscious ruminations, reading this book leaves us with a much deeper, transformed, understanding of our own thoughts and feelings and of how we perceive the definitively non-flat world in which we live.”—George Loewenstein, author of Exotic Preferences: Behavioral Economics and Human Motivation
“This is a remarkable book. Every other book about the mind will tell you either why we’re so dumb, or why we’re so smart. Chater offers a single elegant theory to explain both: why our minds so often let us down and confound us, at the same time that they far surpass our current attempts to build intelligence in machines.”—Joshua Tenenbaum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
"We live with the belief that our lives make sense; that there is deeper meaning guiding our psyches and behavior. In this brilliant book, Nick Chater argues this is just an illusion. Our quest for meaning is misguided because our interpretations are shallow and fleeting."—Steven Sloman, co-author of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
“The mind may be flat but this book is a fascinating, rounded and radical approach to understanding how we think and act. The implications for understanding human decision making are profound. Everyone who enjoyed Thinking, Fast and Slow must read this book.”—Gus O'Donnell, former Cabinet Secretary and Chair of the Behavioural Insights Team Advisory Board