In this engrossing and highly illuminating book, the Cambridge neuroscientist author looks at what the latest scientific research is now revealing about the extent to which the course of our lives is hardwired into our brains; from what we choose to eat and the anxieties and phobias we carry down through the generations, to who we fall in love with. Far from implying an inability to control our lives, however, Critchlow brilliantly argues that this intimate knowledge can actually empower us to shape better futures for ourselves.
Critchlow makes a good case. She writes clearly. You keep wishing you could talk to her because this subject is huge — each chapter could be expanded into a book... Of course it’s not hard to believe the unconscious part of the brain makes decisions without our being aware of this fact... But now consider falling in love. We don’t do that automatically, do we?... Critchlow tells us about many more things — there’s a superb chapter on perception and how our brains are constantly taking short cuts, and a brilliant bit on how we form our beliefs. We’re not exactly pre-programmed machines, she tells us. But neither do we have as much free will as we’d like to think. We exist somewhere in the middle. It’s scary. It’s complicated. But we must live with it.
Critchlow breezes through stacks of evidence that we’re nothing more than fleshy robots advancing through life according to our programming. It’s entertaining, but sometimes you wish she’d knuckle down to the detail. It’s not often I wish that a book had been heftier, but I did this time; Critchlow’s subject is interesting enough to sustain it... The brain, says Critchlow, is nothing more than “an electro-chemical circuit board”. It’s an insight that many readers will find disturbing. If you’ve progressed through life thinking of yourself as a magnificent, rational being driven only by your indomitable will, the discovery that you’re just a fleshy robot with a circuit board attached may prove alarming.