Look Again: The Power of Noticing What Was Always There


Today’s book is: Look Again: The Power of Noticing What Was Always There (Atria/One Signal Publishers, 2024), by Tali Sharot and Cass R. Sunstein, a book that asks why stimulating jobs and breathtaking works of art lose their sparkle after a while. People stop noticing what is most wonderful in their own lives. They also stop noticing what is terrible, due to something called habituation. Because of habituation, people get used to dirty air, become unconcerned by their own misconduct, and become more liable to believe misinformation. But what if you could dishabituate? Could you find a way to see everything anew? What if you could regain sensitivity, not only to the great things in your life, but also to the terrible things you stopped noticing and so don’t try to change? 

In Look Again, neuroscience professor Tali Sharot and Harvard law professor Cass R. Sunstein investigate why we stop noticing both the great and not-so-great things around us and how to “dishabituate.” This groundbreaking work, based on decades of research in the psychological and biological sciences, illuminates how we can reignite the sparks of joy, innovate, and recognize where improvements urgently need to be made. The key to this disruption—to seeing, feeling, and noticing again—is change. By temporarily changing your environment, changing the rules, changing the people you interact with—or even just stepping back and imagining change—you regain sensitivity, allowing you to more clearly identify the bad and more deeply appreciate the good.

Our guest is: Cass R. Sunstein, who is the nation’s most-cited legal scholar. For the past fifteen years, he has been at the forefront of behavioral economics. From 2009 to 2012, he served as the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Since that time, he has served in the US government in multiple capacities and worked with the United Nations and the World Health Organization, where he chaired the Technical Advisory Group on Behavioral Insights and Sciences for Health during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School. His book Nudge, coauthored with Richard Thaler, was a national bestseller. In 2018, he was the recipient of the Holberg Prize from the government of Norway, sometimes described as equivalent of the Nobel Prize for law and the humanities. He lives in Boston and Washington, DC, with his wife, children, and labrador retrievers. He is the co-author [along with Tali Sharot, who could not join us for this episode] of Look Again.

Our host is: Dr. Christina Gessler, who is the creator of the Academic Life podcast. She holds a PhD in history, which she uses to explore what stories we tell and what happens to those we never tell.

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Christina Gessler

Dr. Christina Gessler is the creator, show host, and producer of the Academic Life podcast. She holds a PhD in U.S. history.
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