That's my latest fortnightly book review on the American Spectator website. I'm reviewing Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction, a spinoff from the Edge.org website where researchers, mostly in the human sciences, give short talks about their work.
Certain big ideas recur. The unconscious mind, for example, has been thoroughly rehabilitated after its twentieth-century detour through Freudianism. Far from being a madhouse of seething conflicts deformed by childhood traumas, the unconscious is now seen as a well-oiled machine that works hard to deliver “heuristic” judgments: fast, good-enough-most-times processing based on instinct and internalized experience rather than plodding logic.
I have noticed with interest that Freud has been going through some modest rehabilitation lately. He is on the cover of the April 2014 issue of Discover magazine, for example.
I can't say I ever engaged much with the man's ideas, which I supposed were just a 19th-century imaginative fad, like Marxism—though of course I liked Freud's pessimism. I chuckled with everyone else at Vladimir Nabokov's dismissal of the good doctor:
Let the credulous and the vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts.
The author of that Discover story, on the other hand, says:
Although many details of Freud's theories are wrong, some of his major ideas have been borne out. One of those trailblazing observations concerns the scope and influence of unconscious thought. Freud put the unconscious on the throne of the mental kingdom, but the subjectivity problem led brain scientists to ignore the plentiful evidence of unconscious mental processing for nearly a century. How could they measure mental activity that subjects weren't even aware of themselves? It wasn't until the 1980s that researchers began to solve this conundrum.
Time to give the old boy another look, perhaps. First, though, I need a cigar.