Monday, August 07, 2017

Think Like Einstein by Peter Hollins - a Book Review

When 2017 began, I made a resolution that I would read more books this year than the previous year. So much distraction these days! Endless applications, Facebook, Instagram, news from every corner of the globe, forums of any kind -- where is the time to read good quality books? From my childhood I have always liked reading but noticed that I have been reading less and less in recent years. So that was the reason I made the resolution to give an honest effort to read more.

As part of this effort, the latest book I have completed reading earlier this morning is Peter Hollins' non fiction book, title: Think Like Einstein. I am writing this review as detail as I can, hoping that someone will get some benefits reading this review and hopefully will be inspired to read this particular book and overall to read more good quality books for rewarding feat.

Einstein's intellect is legendary. His contributions to the realm of science is widely known, even when I was growing up I heard his name uttered in reverence from my paternal grandfather who was an avid reader. 

It took me some time to get into the rhythm of the book though it started with two good riddles. The writer then unfolds various techniques that if used well can help thinking better. Almost like Einstein! I wish it were true. In my humble opinion, the intellect like Einstein is a rarity, though I agree with the premise of Peter Hollins that with dedicated efforts one can enhance one's intellect many folds. 

Chapter 1 talks about "Obstacles to Clarity of Thought". The writer gives 4 main reasons for why thinking clearly is not as easy as it should be for many. These are: 

1. Inertia and Sloth
2. Incorrect Logic
3. Incorrect Perception
4. Rigid Thinking

Inertia and Sloth - means we humans (most of us) by design are very lazy. We don't want to work more than what is needed to achieve our goals and after achieving the goals we abandon the efforts altogether. The writer gives an analogy here. It is like two scenarios: a ten minute car trip and a ten hour car trip. For a ten minute ride, the planning can be non existent, in most cases, but for a ten hour trip one must plan well. The problem is that most of us use the same strategy of 10 minute car trip into 10 hour car trip, so obviously causing problem. Peter Hollins writes: "we are taking the path of least resistance and only picking the lowest hanging fruit in the hopes it will get us where we need to be. We might solve the immediate problem we are facing, or get through to the next moment, but it definitely isn't the way of clearest or optimal thinking". Here is one more good quote on Inertia and Sloth: "Just because you were able to make an immediate problem go away doesn't mean you actually know how to solve it." This type of thinking lead to "close-mindedness" and stubbornness. 

The second obstacle to clear thinking is "Incorrect Logic". Here Peter Hollins gives examples of Logical fallacies as the prime reason of Incorrect Logic. What are logical fallacies? These "are errors in thinking that occur because we see an argument and don't necessarily examine it deeply enough to see that the argument isn't actually very convincing". 

The third obstacle to clear thinking is "Incorrect Perception". "Incorrect perception, typically known as cognitive bias, makes people think 1 + 1 = 3 and believe it to be true. Incorrect logic lies in the end result, where incorrect perception lies in the thought process." 

The fourth obstacle to clear thinking is "Rigid Thinking": it is also known as being "close minded" that leads to the unwillingness to consider different points of view. Looking at the polarized world of ours, where many of us abhors the thought of being disputed of our firm belief on any particular subject, may that be philosophical, political, social or economical outlook, Peter Hollins does good job driving this basic point well: "these harm your clear thinking because people tend to create a subjective worldview out of wholly objective events. Events themselves are neutral, and are only positive or negative based on the worldview one holds towards them. It's imperative to be able to see both sides and step outside the box of your rigid thinking.

In the second chapter of the book, Peter Hollins presents three frameworks of thinking: The Facione Six Part Model of Critical Thinking, The RED Model of Thinking and the Paul-Elder Model of Critical Thinking. I found this chapter has good information but mostly a dry chapter comparing to the other ones in the book. Don't get me wrong though. I have highlighted some important terminologies and their meaning as a kind of refresher, though basic concepts, but still good to re-read. 

Some of these quotations I've saved from this chapter are: 

Interpretation asks, "What am I seeing exactly, and am I missing anything?"

Analysis asks, "\What does this mean to me and why?"

"Inference is the ability to read between the lines and understand that information is missing, and make an educated guess about what it might be." 

"Evaluation asks, "Is this information good, valid, and reliable, or do I not trust it?""

"Explanation is the ability to present and break down information in a simple way such that almost anyone can understand it." 

"Self-regulation is the ability to think about your own thinking. It's to take a step outside your own head and determine if you are comprehending, or thinking about something, effectively." 

In third chapter of the book, Peter Hollins writes about "Creative Problem Solving". I like the definition he presents: "It's typically about making a connection between unrelated concepts, or suddenly understanding the underlying concepts that make a problem solvable". He also contrasts between problem solving and creative problem solving with good examples. 

He also has good advice about committing and producing as "committing is one of the options that are milling around your head will inevitably get you closer to a solution than thinking about your options, even if you end up being wrong. When you walk down a path, you will gain tools, knowledge, and experience to help you understand the problem as a whole and what might be missing from your solution." - good observation. If I'm remembering it correctly I had read similar observations from two other books in the past, first one was The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and the second one is "Wait...What? And Life's Other Essential Questions" by James E. Ryan. 

In Chapter 4, the writer describes The Socratic Method - it is basically following ancient Greek method named after the famous philosopher Socratis - where one asks many questions to understand the true meaning of an assertions and while doing that finding any weakness and gap in the assertion. Here is a good quote: "if you are mercilessly questioned and picked apart with Socratic questioning, what remains afterwards will be heavily tested, validated and rock solid". 

In Chapter 5, Peter Hollins gives pointers on how make smarter decisions in life. Many of us feel indecision when facing crossroads in life, "We're indecisive because we don't want to be judged negatively. It's often a confidence issue as opposed to a pickiness issue." The techniques to be decisive and making good decisions are: 

1. Know that almost every decision is reversible
2. Apply good filters and boundaries to help making the decision

In Chapter 6 the writer describes the way to find one's intelligence type. One good point that he observes that I also had read in other articles is that a high IQ score might be correlated with traditional type of success and higher education, but it certainly doesn't cause success in itself. 

8 intelligence types that are provided in this chapter are: 

1. Linguistic and verbal 
2. Logical - mathematical 
3. Visual - spatial 
4. Body - movement 
5. Musical 
6. Interpersonal
7. Intrapersonal
8. Naturalist

In Chapter 7 the writer gives some pointers on how to make our brain run in optimal levels

The techniques described are: 

1. Prevent burning out by doing nothing - like sleeping good number of hours everyday, for example eight hours a night. Practicing meditation and mindfulness can also bring tremendous benefit in this regard. 

2. Do the toughest work/thinking at the right time of a day or night when the brain is naturally at its best. 

3. Eat good food and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Avoid food like sugar, dairy and gluten (though I think meat and fish should have been included in this list by the writer) and good food list includes vegetables, ginger, green veggies and turmeric that fights inflammation in brain cells called miroglia. 

4. De-stress. "Manage your stress; manage your brainpower. Diet, exercise, adequate sleep, hydration and meditation have all been tied to lower stress."

Chapter 8 gives good explanation on different types memories, like sensory, short term and long term and how we can retain more information in our memories for longer. Some of the techniques mentioned are spaced repetition, usage of flashcards, mnemonics, stories and using of senses, especially using smell to trigger memories. 

In Chapter 9 the writer debunks some of the widely held notion (to him these are all lies). Here are the list: 

1. The Mozart Effect: classical music like Mozart, Beethoven do not help think better
2. Chess can be helpful improving certain individual skills but it does not makes one smarter. 
3. Brain training games like Neurotracer, Cogmed, Lumosity are useless. However, there is scientific evidence that aerobic exercise causes biochemical and hormone-related changes that literally increase the size of your brain. So there is some hope.

Chapter 10 gives some good primer on how humanity gets fooled by myriads of data centric opinion and news feed that bombards us everyday from zillion sources. Interpreting the world around us is increasingly dependant on how to evaluate data thrown at us. Most of us take data presented at a face value without asking the critical questions to check its validity or truthfulness. We get fooled by clever filters put by others to sway an opinion. Here are some of the pointers Peter Hollins makes: 

"Correlation is not causation" - "Just because two things occur at the same time means absolutely nothing -- it's as good as a coincidence without actual evidence to say otherwise."

"The Gambler's Fallacy" - it's the feeling that there are predictable patterns in what are actually random and independent events. 

"Selection Bias" - it happens when data presented is highly skewed and inaccurate because the data points involved aren't actually random. 

"Margin of Error" - measures the accuracy of the sample data.

In Chapter 11 the writer describes how to generate good creative ideas. Here are the techniques: 

1. Brainstorm ideas as prolifically as possible
2. Embrace outlandish ideas during ideation as it will open up new possibilities 
3. Setting a deadline on generating ideas can be beneficial as it can be motivating
4. Use each letter of alphabet and come up with new idea that starts with a specific letter, it will give 26 ideas at the least. 

In Chapter 12 the writer gives pointers on how to develop good judgement. Here is the list he covered: 

1. Balanced Viewing: It's like seeing the forest and the trees with equal importance by not diminishing the significance of either.
2. Understand Deductive Reasoning - "operate on hypotheses to make sense of data".
3. Skepticism - never believe everything you hear - see evidence before forming a solid opinion on anything. 
4. Recognizing our own bias:  by recognizing our own bias we will be self aware more that will help making good judgement. 

In Chapter 13, Peter Hollins describes, though briefly, how Einstein's thought process was. Einstein used thought experiment like "What If" scenario to its end to determine if a theory or hypothesis was true. 

In the very last chapter, Conclusion, the writer provides the answer to the riddle that he presented in the first chapter and ends the book with a positive note to readers: "Sharpening your insight isn't just about being more observant or solving logic riddles. That might be where it starts, but it can have a very real positive effect on your life." 

Peter Hollins' Think Like Einstein is a book full of good wisdom. Some of these may feel very basic to many, but even then refreshing these "basics" can bring benefits in one's life. 

I heartily recommend this book.

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