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10 brain books

′Classic – a book which people praise and don’t read' - Mark Twain

Thank you for joining me for blog 12 in the series, highlighting decision-making and the brain. This is my public exploration of what drives decision-making and how we can use that information to make better decisions, resulting in better outcomes.

Why I choose books not articles?

Given there are so many angles you can attack decision-making from, in today's blog, I highlight books that I have read and felt have helped me further understand an angle of decision-making. I tend to enjoy books for three reasons:

i) Books go deeper than articles and you get a much richer and nuanced understanding of a topic

ii) The books I choose, tend to have authors that are in research or at least have a reputation for being good at reliably getting deep into a topic rather than selling a story iii) A well thumbed and highlighted physical book can be easily referred back to. I am often looking for a specific fact or topic and it makes it a lot easier to find

My 10 brain book recommendations

I've read and re-read each of these books to further my understanding of the brain and decision-making, and consider them to be the best so far. This is my personally curated list. I hope you enjoy them!

1) Thinking Fast and Slow

Topics: System 1 (intuitive) vs System 2 (rational) parts of the brain; heuristics (rules of thumb); Overconfidence; Common cognitive biases; Experiencing vs Remembering brain

If there is one book you read, let it be this one. It's not a page turner, and can be a slog to get through, but there is so much knowledge in this book that worthwhile. This book more than any other, made me reflect on my decision-making and has helped me understand that biases are everywhere. My blogs around cognitive biases and ones to come on the remembering vs experiencing self draw heavily from this body of work.

2) Think Again

Topics: Rethinking, intellectual humility, how to open up discussion

If we recast ourselves as seekers of truth rather than defenders of a viewpoint, we will make ourselves and those around us, engage in meaningful debate. The ability to open your mind and be prepared to change it now and again, might be the superpower you need to be relevant in a rapidly changing world. The 'fact' gap between older and younger generations might be best bridged by a healthy dose of open-mindedness.

3) Superforecasting

Topics: Illusions of knowledge, keeping score, perpetual beta, superteams

There is no doubt, that future blogs on best practices will rely heavily on this book and investing books. Deconstructing how people refine and improve their predictions is perhaps the nub of why I wrote this blog. If you want to get straight through to the punchline, read the last chapter of this book 'The Ten Commandments for aspiring superforecasters'

4) The molecule of more

Topics: The role of dopamine in love, addiction, domination and creativity

This book is an excellent place to go for those who want to know about dopamine - a brain chemical that is influential in what we focus on. If there is one takeaway here, levels of dopamine can be both naturally and artificially stimulated. A lot of addictions, whether to drugs or mobile phones is a result of the hacking of the dopamine system, but in the natural world it developed to spur our motivation.

5) Nudge

Topics: How humans don't follow 'rational' economics; what is choice architecture; what is a nudge or sludge; nudges in the financial arena and organ donation

I love this book. Easy to read and very important subject matter. It also reminded us that when presented with a choice, through convenience and framing we can significantly influence people's choice. If we are using these powers of persuasion responsibly, we want people to most likely choose the one that they would have, had the been experts on the subject.

6) Hooked

Topics: Trigger, Action and Reward i.e. how to make people come back

It's a great book but very scary. We can see how various platforms are creating a feedback loop so that we keep coming back. The 'likes' and emojis that people post is a huge social reward system. Once you have developed the taste for it, you can spend much more time there, and will curate your output to get more. This is a very balanced handling of the subject, but it reminds you that our attention is the prize - guard yours.

7. A Thousand Brains

Topics: Old brain versus New Brain; what does learning mean in the brain context; how flexible the brain is; man vs machine

I think this has been the most illuminating book I have read. Jeff Hawkins has been involved with pattern recognition for a long time, and what struck me, is the similarity between the machines we are creating and the brain. One major thing that has been elusive is general intelligence, and this book provides a very relatable theory of how general intelligence works. The sections of existential threat from machines and man vs machines is also a really well argued case.

8. Deep Work

Topics: What is deep work; value of deep work; meaning derived from deep work; how to achieve deep work

We all know that feeling of being stretched in many directions and how deeply stressful and unsatisfying it it. Deep work is the opposite of that. Solid stretches of undisturbed time on your highest priority. This retreat from hyperconnectivity seems like an other-worldly luxury but Cal Newport convinced me that it's one of the most reliable ways to come away from a day having the feeling of progress and satisfaction.

9. The habits of a happy brain

Topics: Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, Endorphins and habits for each happy chemical

This book will be the inspiration for many upcoming blogs, as it explained to me a key concept, that to feel good, you do not need to strive for more. There are joyous activities you can do like exercise, hugging and stretching that leave you with a natural high - this is your happy hormones in action and we can activate them.

10. Willpower

Topics: What is willpower; willpower in sports, thinking and dieting; willpower as a finite resource

For full disclosure, I'm only half way through this book as it has been a busy period but what a book. I actually searched out for a book like this, as I am coming towards a theory that the old brain (base self) is being constantly overruled by your new brain (higher self) but when you run out of energy you tend to be less able to resist that dessert or maybe get a bit short-tempered when things arent going your way after a hard day's work.


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