I heard about this book from three different friends. I thought that if so many people are talking about it, it's worth reading. And yes, it really is worth it.
The book sort of explains the mechanisms by which we decide to do stuff and then can't figure out what made us do it.
The author begins the book by talking about the illusory nature of what we think is reality:
Everything we think, feel, experience is an illusion... produced by our brain... That's why each of us feels that we're not living our own life...
The denser the connections between particular neurons, the more likely it is that when one neuron is activated it will induce the activity of another neuron. So our brain doesn't try to create new thoughts, it just wants to repeat thoughts that it already has
We ourselves are also its work: both we ourselves and our consciousness and everything we can imagine is what the brain creates, weaving the web of its nerve connections
That is, everything with which we somehow interact is mediated. We cannot perceive the “real reality”, we only perceive the projection that our senses and brain have created.
It is as if we are trapped in our own perception. This, by the way, strongly overlaps with Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. It describes why a lost person bends their line, even though it's obvious that they don't understand where they are. Kurpatov goes on to write about this as well:
No matter how reasonable we seem to ourselves, our brain looks for and marks only those facts that prove it to be right, and...—everything that contradicts its attitudes is rigorously ignored
It is because of the illusion of reality that we live in a pile of delusions, myths and inaccurate ideas about life. Some of these are tied to culture and ideologies, some are derived from our own attitudes.
Our irrational belief in a savior is based on a banal childhood complex: when we were little, we expected our parents to help us. No matter what happened, they had to come and save us. Now we have grown up, but the reflex is still there—we keep waiting
All of our ideas about some fundamental “universal human values” are really just as much the result of cultural propaganda as any other “truths” of this kind. Human... is the most aggressive... animal that has ever inhabited our planet.
The illusion of reality is particularly detrimental to human relationships. It is impossible to imagine a situation through the eyes (brain?) of the other person because it would require a different configuration of neural connections in the brain. Because of this, we have differences in understanding, misunderstandings, and conflicts.
If you understood that other people don't owe you anything, you would feel grateful to them for what they do for you. But no, you hate them for what they don't do for you
Nobody cares about us. And if someone does something for us, it's only because he himself needs it for some reason now. That is he does it not for us, but for himself
Living off the help and support of others is a risky game
When you declare your love for someone, the fact is that you are declaring your love for someone. But it's not a fact that you love. If you think you love someone, the fact is that you think you love them, but it's not a fact of love
And this almost word for word echoes my thoughts on human relationships, which I once pondered myself:
If we suddenly, for some reason... stop being interesting for them, they stop being friends with us... and love us... And we're exactly the same! If we like someone, if we feel good with them, if they are important to us for some reason, we love them... But then, when something happens in our brain... we stop needing that person. The feeling immediately disappears like smoke
The problem is also that people are very stubborn, we can't accept that we are wrong, we don't even want to see it. It is difficult to admit error because it is a contradiction, and contradictions tell us that our model of reality is inaccurate.
If the model is inaccurate, we have to fix it, and that takes resources. The brain is very lazy, so we start making excuses for ourselves and picking up facts to defend our position.
We don't want to see ourselves as wrong... to be rubbing our noses in contradictions
The unhappier a person gets, the hotter they defend their beliefs, opinions, attitudes
In their own eyes everybody is worth twice as much as we're willing to pay for it and, of course, what we're paying for it. Of course they're not happy—we don't appreciate them!
The author also frequently reminds us that humans are social creatures, and interactions between people are by and large built on social patterns from antiquity:
We are very sensitive to the way people treat us... And from time to time these kinds of experiences put everybody in a state of full-blown mental crisis
Human is a pack animal. A human is a biological individual, a member of the pack, and a member of the species. All of this imposes on us... As a member of a pack, we have a certain role to play in the survival of the species, and as a member of the species, we have a certain role to play in the procreation of offspring
Human's reluctance to die and our need for sexual gratification is... totally understandable. But it's social competition that forms the foundation of our lives
We're social animals, we're not really capable of anything ourselves. We have to learn from others
But not only are we dependent on other people's opinions, we're also totally dependent on outside circumstances. It seems to us that we are in control of our actions, that we have an inner compass that shows the way and tells us what to do. But no, the only thing that really determines our actions is how the circumstances play out.
Two weeks ago they said and wrote one thing, then they talked to someone and not only started thinking differently, but they decided that they had thought differently before, not the way they had actually thought before!
The way you know yourself is just a consequence of external circumstances. If they change significantly... you wouldn't be able to know yourself... It doesn't matter what one thinks about oneself, it doesn't matter what one's attitude or world view is, a person's behavior is determined by the situation in which one finds oneself
There's a sub-personality in you that's raising your child. But there's also a sub-personality that has learned to tolerate the moralizing of your own parents. So don't be surprised if you want to rush off somewhere when your kids meet your parents
The author then explains why this happens:
First the brain makes some decision, and then it adapts itself to its consequences... Our attitude towards life is not what we think it is, but the connections our brain has made
We trust our consciousness too much, and it is with its help that our brain skillfully covers up any of its stupidity with beautiful formulations and “wise” explanations. As a matter of fact, consciousness sanctions what, according to the mind, should be fought
For example, why it's very hard to quit a certain habit:
Until your brain itself wants something you can't do anything about its habits
And here's a good one about needs and wants:
A genuine desire is not to acquire something, but to make up for a deficiency, to eliminate a deficiency. If you have a genuine deficit, then you don't have a problem with desire—it's obvious
Most memorable for me was the description of the meaning of life in this book.
We have to stop problematizing suffering... and assume that there are some other options. There are none. Our purpose is to live. That's it. Nothing else. The only thing that makes sense, perhaps, is learning to live without making things more difficult for ourselves
The only thing that really matters in life is relationships with other people
The idea that you can solve everything once and for all by making some miraculous “right” decision smells insane
In short, I recommend this book. If you know Russian it's better to read it in original. Some may not like the style, but I got it—it was like chatting with a friend. There's also a couple of translations in English as well.