Monday, June 22, 2009

Book Review: The Genius of Instinct by Hendrie Weisinger

I was expecting much more from this book but I found it generally disappointing. First, Dr. Weisinger has a very poor writing style and could have used significantly more help from a good editor (and a proof reader). There are some obvious typos and some bad grammar (the use of disconnect "with" instead of disconnect "from", for example). The good doctor uses a slew of cliches sometimes even bringing home a point with a terrible allusion to something from popular culture. One example: there is one sentence referring to the lion kings being aware of the circle of life (maybe this was subtle product placement for the Disney movie). In another place he mentions how a clan would face extinction, which could be final. I wasn't aware of the non-final version of extinction.

As far as the content, Weisinger's thesis is that Mother Nature (whom he refers to sometimes as if it were an actual person) has endowed us with instincts that have helped us survive for all this millenia. Because these instincts have brought us succesfully to were we are today, we should become familiar with them and use them to our advantage. This logic holds up well; however, Weisinger's presentation of evidence to support this is often very speculative, running something like this: since this instinct seems to work today, it must have worked in the past to get our ancestors out of some pickle or to help in the process of natural selection of certain traits (and those who exhibit them) over others. He then conjures up (not "conjectures up", as Weisinger often writes) some very detailed scenario of what must have happened and how. Dr. Weisinger must have had access to some primitive Youtube application when researsching his book. It might have helped if Weisinger included references to actual studies and perhaps footnotes, since so many of his claims rely on other people's work.

On the positive side, perhaps the last fourth of the book or so, Weisinger's tale is a little stronger, with an excellent description of and prescription for how to apply novely to increase motivation and curiosity.