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Science Books

June 28, 2007

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence Of The Unconscious
Gerd Gigerenzer (2007)
ISBN: 0670038636

While there are mixed schools of thought on the idea of going with a gut feeling, it's generally agreed upon that analysis and deliberation beat intuition - any day of the week. But according to Gerd Gigerenzer, director of the Max Planck Center for Human Development, nothing could be further from the truth. Gigerenzer has boiled down his original research into a much more palatable and digestible theoretical delicacy. In Gut Feelings, Gigerenzer basically states that going on a hunch is no better or worse than mulling over an idea or decision at length. While most people may assume that going on a gut feeling is little better than a guess, Gigerenzer explains that there is a lot more processing going on in the brain than people realize. This conceptual rule-of-thumb, which Gigerenzer classifies as one type of "mental shortcut," works by the brain quickly riffling through our databanks and producing a kind of rough estimate based on available information. Gigerenzer even goes as far as suggesting that our moral judgment and social intuition are guided intimately by these mental shortcuts. Gigerenzer says that sometimes a problem really only has one essential element, and that the brain is capable of identifying it almost immediately. This may explain the many maxims that reflect this concept, such as "take the best approach," "don't over analyze things," and, of course, K.I.S.S, or "keep it simple stupid." Gut Feelings is an easy read, and Gigerenzer lays out his fascinating hypothesis well.

When Least Is Best: How Mathematicians Discovered Many Clever Ways To Make Things As Small (Or As Large) As Possible
Paul J. Nahin (2007)
ISBN: 0691130523

Apparently biggest is not necessarily the best, according to Nahin's When Least Is Best. Using the mathematical concepts of maxima, minima, and differentiation, Nahin, Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at the University of New Hampshire, shows readers - with little more than a grasp of undergrad mathematics - how to solve contemporary engineering feats, and explain natural wonders. Explained with an easy, sharp, and witty tone, Nahin sets about answering questions such as how a speeding bullet may best be photographed, why light travels through glass in the least amount of time available, how to build the shortest bridge between two towns, or make the perfect basketball shot. When Least Is Best shows how the mathematical concepts used to approach these problems have developed over time, all the way back to medieval writings and up to today's field of optimization. Nahin even presents a number of easily setup experiments for eager-beavers to try at home. Nahin's handling of his subject matter is instructive and humorous, and makes the idea of dabbling in a bit of mathematics an attractive prospect.

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