The Hour Between Dog and Wolf

The Hour Between Dog and Wolf

Risk-taking, Gut Feelings and the Biology of Boom and Bust

Book - 2012 | 1st American ed.
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A Wall Street trader-turned-neuroscientist reveals the biology of boom-and-bust cycles to explain the impact of risk taking on body chemistry, citing the relationship between testosterone, decision making, and emotional health.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2012.
Edition: 1st American ed.
ISBN: 9781594203381
Branch Call Number: 332.019 COATES
Characteristics: 339 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.


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JCS3F Oct 19, 2013

Beginning to believe that popular non-fiction about neurobiology can be summarized in about half the number of pages. 'Hour Between Dog and Wolf' very much fits in this category. While there are interesting parallels between elite athleticism and the ability to regulate one's emotional responses, the source of the connection and our ability to consciously develop self-regulation is largely unexplored. The second half of the book drifts vaguely through concepts like resilience and toughness (which I thought were synonyms) and the book loses its sense of structure. That said, the book fits comfortably in the latest popular overviews of neurobiology, my favorite of which is 'Mindsight' by Dan Siegel. 'Mindsight' covers similar territory, walking us through the structure of the brain and providing exercises to control our limbic system and reptilian brain. Coates does a nice job of reviewing this and takes the additional step of introducing the Vagus nerve, which also helps with self-regulation. But is this enough for a 282 page book? Didn't seem like it.

Oct 10, 2012

This excellent book combines several ideas I'd read before in ways I hadn't seen. First is the idea of what Coates calls pre-conscious thought. This is the finding of modern neuroscience that a lot of our "thinking" actually happens instinctively and without our conscious awareness. We evolved in conditions where we sometimes had to respond instantly to shadows in the forest or sudden noises and couldn't afford the time it took to consciously evaluate the threat. There is a whole host of automatic responses that our bodies make to prepare us to fight or flee, including changes in breathing and heart rates, and, importantly for this book, hormone levels.

Second is a counter-idea really. Western thought holds that the mind and the body are separate. From Plato to Descartes, we generally believe consciousness is somehow separate and distinct from the animal bodies that house our brains. Coates argues, after Aristotle, that our minds and bodies are inextricably intertwined, that what affects one affects the other.

Linking back to our basic fight-or-flight responses, Coates argues that the hormonal changes that ready our bodies to respond to threats (and opportunities) also affect our brains and therefore affect the way we think. He says this is particularly important for modern society, where the dangers we face are rarely physical but are instead intellectual. He focuses on modern financial trading floors where market jitters can trigger those primitive fight-or-flight responses. They make traders either more risk-seeking or more risk-averse, depending on how the markets are doing. The decisions traders make can build on themselves and cause the "irrational exuberance" or "irrational pessimism" that in turn cause market bubbles and crashes. Economic theory assumes that we are rational beings who carefully study market conditions and set prices and make trades accordingly. Coates argues that our physical state interacts with our mental state and causes us to behave irrationally, making poor decisions and amplifying market trends to extreme highs or lows.

Although this book is geared to the effect of biology on financial decision-making, the discussion applies to any situations where we face prolonged stimulation and/or stress. The text is somewhat technical but is very well-written and relatively easy to understand. The affects of the mind-body connection are described through fictional stories about market traders; although most readers won't be familiar with this environment, the stories are told simply and powerfully and illustrate very well the points Coates is making.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the effects of short-term and long-term stress on the body/mind.


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