Unthink by Chris Paley
When I first laid eyes on Unthink, I was instantly intrigued. There was something about its title that, funnily enough, compelled me to think. A catchy tagline and two pages later I found myself lost in the inner workings of the human mind. That’s what Unthink does. It opens up your mind, spreads it out on a table and urges you to dissect it, all in a fascinating attempt to teach you about, well, your mind itself.
Very early on, Chris Paley proclaims that in order to understand the human mind we must, as with any other element in the universe, conduct experiments. The Cambridge-educated author does not shy away from treating the brain as an object to repeatedly investigate. Yet, it is his artful narration that keeps the book from turning into a creepy, nightmarish take on the human psyche.
It’s fairly evident from the construct that this book champions the unconscious mind. It declares that the arguments we make are for defending our choices rather than making them. And in one of many insightful experiments, it concludes that it is, in fact, the unconscious brain that makes all our decisions. The conscious brain just invents reasons to rationalize them.
What makes it bookshelf-worthy?
If you’re the kind of person who is fascinated by psychology, this book is right up your alley. While it doesn’t necessarily teach the reader to think better, it definitely makes a good case for the power of the unconscious. This book is concise yet conclusive. Through a plethora of powerful experiments, it manages to convince the reader to support its hypothesis – Humans are intricate objects, but we too can be understood only through experimentation.
There are many wow moments in the book, but for me, the best would have to be the explanation of humans as social beings. The author boldly states that it isn’t physics or mathematics that proves how brilliant our minds are – it is our social interaction that makes us truly complex. It was also wildly amusing to learn that as humans, we are the most interesting things to ourselves. Case in point being when we hear our name in a crowded room, we become instantly aware and extremely antsy to know what’s being said about us.
This book is trying to explain a lot, so naturally, in a few places the language is convoluted. There were some instances where I had to revisit an explanation because of its confusing construct. I personally found the chapter on the conscious mind difficult to consume, but that could also be attributed to my lack of experience in reading non-fiction. All in all, it was a trouble-free read.
As a designer, I was hoping to learn a lot more about the human mind, especially in terms of how to create more engaging content for an audience. What I found instead was an explanation on why we are the way we are. And while that was surely interesting to read, I felt somewhat unsatisfied in the end.
This doesn’t go to say that Unthink is not worth your time. It is a book about the reader as much as it is about the author. Packed with riveting examples, it maintains a fast yet comfortable pace. One would normally expect a book of this nature to be quite verbose, but it manages to exceed expectations with its story-like yet tight narration. Having said that, this is not a book that can be read more than once, mainly because it does its job effectively the first time around. But if you’re in the market for some heavy-duty reflection, this book is sure to make you unthink.