A guidebook to our minds

We’re living though a revolution in neuroscience—or are we? Paul Bloom’s new book shows just how slow-moving the discipline of psychology really is
May 10, 2023
The Human Mind: A brief Tour of Everything We Know
Paul Bloom
Buy on Bookshop.org
Buy on Bookshop.org

“Brief history” style books have done well for publishers and readers alike. Now the researcher, teacher and populariser Paul Bloom is trying the same trick for psychology—and yet, despite much hype around the idea that we’re living through a neuroscience revolution, the truth is that the subject is slow-moving. It’s telling that one of the most arresting passages in Bloom’s book comes from one of the pioneers, writing almost 150 years ago: William James on the mind’s autopilot that spares us the agony of perpetual minor decision-making. The key movements and the greatest and most notorious probers of the mind—Descartes, Kant, Skinner et al—all understandably get a look-in.

Bloom has many virtues: he’s fair, wise and unmoved by the hype, so he’s not afraid to tell old truths nor to use staples that are perhaps overfamiliar for those with more than a passing acquaintance with the subject. For example, the book starts with the oft-told story of Phineas Gage, who had a 13-and-a-half-pound iron bolt blasted though his brain and survived—but suffered progressive catastrophic personality change. Frankly, though, it’s a good tale and where better to start?

The biases that, thanks to Daniel Kahneman, loom large in people’s minds today are well covered, and a chapter details the current crisis in social psychology that’s been brought about by the unreplicability of research findings. The social psychologist Michael Inzlicht has confessed: “We have abused our inferential tools by massaging our data to make them say what we want as opposed to letting them tell their truths.”

But Bloom keeps faith with his subject and he’s a powerful advocate. The Human Mind is a sane corrective in an increasingly crazed world.