Fine, Cordelia

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Fine, Cordelia

PERSONAL:

Education: Oxford University, B.A.; Cambridge University, M.Phil; University College London, Ph.D.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of Philosophy, University of Melbourne, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia; fax: 61-3-93482130. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer, psychologist, philosopher, and educator. University of Melbourne, Centre for Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), research associate.

WRITINGS:

A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Icon Books (Cambridge, England), 2005, Norton (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to books, including The Neuroscience of Morality: Emotion, Disease, and Development, Volume 3, edited by W. Sinnott-Armstrong, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2007; and Companion to Consciousness Encyclopedia, Oxford University Press (New York, NY). Contributor to periodicals and journals, including Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, Psyche, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Brain, Neurocase, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology. Author of column, "The Modern Mind," The Australian (newspaper). A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives has been translated into German and Italian.

SIDELIGHTS:

Cordelia Fine is an experimental psychologist and research associate at the University of Melbourne. In A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Fine explores in depth how the human brain "distorts reality in order to save us from the ego-destroying effects of failure and pessimism," noted a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. The brain does this, Fine reports, in order to "protect our egos from unpleasant truths" or to "maintain a sense of control and continuity in an otherwise unpredictable world," commented a Science News contributor. "Her premise is that the brain is fundamentally an unreliable organ. It seems to know more than ‘we’ know, and shields us from all kinds of troubling but true information," remarked Alain de Botton in the London Sunday Times.

For example, the brain will allow a person to focus on positive achievements rather than on setbacks and defeats, assigning greater significance to the more pleasant accomplishments and downplaying the negative events. An optimist may selectively edit the events in their mind, assuming full credit for all successes while blaming others or outside circumstances for any failures. Despite all claims of human rationality and control, Fine says, the brain is still greatly influenced by strong emotions such as anger, fear, jealousy, and sexual urges. Humans often find it difficult to accept new information, especially if it contradicts a favored belief, even when that new information is shown to be correct. Our brains also work to support and sustain the ego and sense of self, often projecting unpleasant traits onto others in unfavorable social or racial categories, even as we sometimes demonstrate those negative characteristics ourselves. We may disapprove of some types of behavior in others while reassuring ourselves, perhaps falsely, that we would never engage in that kind of behavior. It is through these processes in the brain, Fine notes, that stereotypes emerge, racial and social conflicts form, and self-centered, self-righteous behavior originates. Worse, the brain often does these things without our conscious knowledge, leaving us unable to control its actions and positioned at a considerable disadvantage in overcoming the worst of the brain's self-deluding behavior. Fine, however, also offers suggestions for recognizing and reversing these weaknesses of our mind.

"Fine's consistently well-written and meticulously researched book is an object lesson in the way that the needs of the lay person and the scientist diverge," commented de Botton. Fine, observed Mary Ann Hughes in the Library Journal, "is that rare academic who's also an excellent writer." The Publishers Weekly reviewer called Fine's book a "readable account" with a "good-humored tone," while Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor named it "an edifying exploration, wryly and ruefully expressed."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, July 1, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, p. 11.

Library Journal, June 15, 2006, Mary Ann Hughes, review of A Mind of Its Own, p. 88.

Publishers Weekly, May 8, 2006, review of A Mind of Its Own, p. 57.

Science News, July 22, 2006, review of A Mind of Its Own, p. 63.

Sunday Times (London, England), January 22, 2006, Alain de Botton, "Our Distorting Minds," review of A Mind of Its Own.

ONLINE

Cordelia Fine Home Page,http://www.cordeliafine.com (February 24, 2007).

University of Melbourne Center for Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics Web site,http://www.cappe.edu.au/ (February 24, 2007), faculty profile of author.