Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #50: This Will Make You Smarter edited by John Brockman
Editor John Brockman posed the question “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” Leading scientists, psychologists, writers and general advanced “thinkers” responded with the short answers that make up This Will Make You Smarter, and the result is indeed thought-provoking, but not always interesting.
However, the most interesting portion, to me, is that this was published before the self-plagiarizing/Bob Dylan quote fabrication scandal of Jonah Lehrer. Lehrer’s contribution to this book, “Control Your Spotlight,” has to do with a study conducted with small children. The children were in a room with a bowl of marshmallows and told that if they could wait a short period of time alone, they could have more than one to eat. The study looked at impulse control, mainly, and the children who were better able to resist taking a marshmallow early were the ones who put their attention elsewhere. Some kids sang songs, others covered their eyes, etc. But what I find rather amusing is this bit from Lehrer:
Willpower is really about properly diverting the spotlight of attention, learning how to control that short list of thoughts in working memory. It’s about realizing that if we’re thinking about the marshmallow, we’re going to eat it, which is why we need to look away.
So, am I to understand that he gambled on the working memory of Bob Dylan fans, and hoped that they were looking at other things when he made up those quotes? That’s a pretty big gamble, that spotlight “control.” He didn’t have the smarts suggested in David G. Myers’ contributing essay, “Self-Serving Bias:”
Being mindful of self-serving bias beckons us not to false modesty but to a humility that affirms our genuine talents and virtues and likewise those of others.
In other words, work with what you’ve got, and work it well. Don’t be a self-serving jerk who tries to make his book better with fake quotes. Also, never underestimate a music super-fan’s skills.
(My full review appears at Glorified Love Letters.)