STARRED REVIEW
April 2018

The power of flexible thinking

By Leonard Mlodinow

We live in a time of great change, driven by the exponentially increasing power of computers. In order to thrive in this whirlwind of change, we need to rely on what Leonard Mlodinow calls elastic thinking. But there’s a problem. In his new book, Elastic, Mlodinow writes, “The technological advancement that makes elastic thinking ever more essential also makes it less likely that we’ll engage in it.”

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We live in a time of great change, driven by the exponentially increasing power of computers. In order to thrive in this whirlwind of change, we need to rely on what Leonard Mlodinow calls elastic thinking. But there’s a problem. In his new book, Elastic, Mlodinow writes, “The technological advancement that makes elastic thinking ever more essential also makes it less likely that we’ll engage in it.”

Mlodinow shows us the components of elastic thinking, like embracing eccentricity and novelty, letting go of cognitive filters, practicing mindfulness and even mindlessness. Along the way, Mlodinow provides a primer on the brain’s structures and brain research, showing us how we think and what, exactly, thought even is.

Does this book sound heavy? It’s not. Mlodinow is a lively guide, and his writing on this complicated subject is clear and easy to follow. (He’s also a theoretical physicist who’s written several bestselling science books, collaborated with Stephen Hawking and written for “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”) To illustrate his points, Mlodinow offers a wide range of anecdotes made possible by elastic thinking, such as the illuminating moment that led Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein and the reasons behind the Allies’ success in the World War II Battle of Midway. He also interviews an array of people—not just scientists but also those who, in his view, exemplify some aspect of elastic thinking, people like Judy Blume and Seth MacFarlane.

Elastic thinking is what makes humans human, Mlodinow asserts, and it’s something we’re far better at than computers and artificial intelligence, which is reassuring for us. While Elastic isn’t exactly a self-help book, it does offer quizzes to help readers determine their levels of elastic thought, and each chapter offers exercises and suggestions for building elastic thinking skills.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Elastic

Elastic

By Leonard Mlodinow
Pantheon
ISBN 9781101870921

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