Do you think what you think you think? - Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom

What a strange book!

Subtitled 'The ultimate philosophical quiz book', it was part of a 'Do you really understand yourself?' birthday present. The presenter is a fan of Derren Brown! It's full of tests and mini-quizzes to see if your perception of yourself matches up with how you think you act. The concept is very interesting, and the content is thought-provoking, but often erratic and frustrating.

It starts with a few tests to see if you're as logical as you think you are. It turns out that if you've supervised university level courses on logic and proof, you may well be. It then moves on to checking whether your views on a deity are rational and consistent. I think this is the weakest, or at least most frustrating part of the book. It argues why certain positions are inconsistent, but lacks subtlety. Still, there's only so much they can fit in a short book, and the last pop-philosophy book I read was by Bertrand Russell, so they've got a high bar to work against.

After that, the book starts to mellow, covering subjects like ethics, morals, free will and the nature of art. Again, I took the test results with a big pinch of salt (while they say 'answer the question exactly as written', I think the results might have been more accurate with 'answer the question you think we're asking'), but the accompanying blurb sorted out the point they were trying to get to. The book believes I strongly believe in free will (I actually believe we should at least act like we have free will), and that ethically and morally I'm, er, fairly laid back. I guess there's little news there! On the subject of art, I'm still not sure where good art straddles the intellectual/emotional boundary.

The book finishes off with a short multiple-choice knowledge-of-history-of-philosophy quiz. This part I really did not get. The majority were hard enough to make it more or less guesswork for me. Anyone who could do well on it really needn't read the book! The really frustrating part was that the answer section was just a grid of A-Ds. When the possible answers were 4 philosophers I hadn't heard of, a little blurb explaining the answers would have been lovely. Instead, I'll just spend some time on Wikipedia, I guess.

Summary: A great concept with a somewhat flawed execution, alternating between thought-provoking fun and frustration.

Posted 2011-04-22.