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Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning

35 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465028290
ISBN-10: 0465028292
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Editorial Reviews


“[An] impressive debut.... [Bergen] sets out his account with enthusiasm, energy and some delightful touches of humour. If you want an engaging, well-informed tour of how cognitive science approaches the problem of meaning, you stand to learn a great deal from this book.”

The Roanoke Times
“Bergen uses anecdotes to effectively illustrate the many aspects and quirks of human communication.... Bergen has shed light on this subject in a way that bridges the communication gap between academe and the world without compromising his scholarship. Reading this book will be helpful to anyone who has to write letters, deliver speeches, make telephone calls or otherwise deliver concepts to other humans.”

San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review
"[Bergen has] a witty, entertaining and engaging style that forces us to reflect on the dynamics of human thought processes.”

New Scientist
“Bergen writes with a lightness of touch and a jovial wit...captivating.... After reading this book, words will never hold quite the same meaning for you again.”

“The author’s enthusiasm and humor are evident and result in an informative and fun read. Highly recommended.”

Library Journal Xpress Reviews, starred review
“[An] excellent book. Similar to what Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language is to linguists, this book is a sine qua non for cognitive scientists, ordinary language philosophers, and the intrepid general reader. Highly recommended”

Kirkus Reviews
“An intriguing look at the brain mechanisms involved in the complexities of human communication.”

John McWhorter, Professor of Linguistics and American Studies, Columbia University, and Contributing Editor, The New Republic
“One may suppose knowing what a sentence means is about matching its words to definitions floating somewhere in our heads. But you know that Elvis is leaving the building and Elvis has left the building mean different things, and yet the difference has nothing to do with ‘definitions.’ Ben Bergen shows us that the link between sentences and meanings is ongoing mental simulations—the same kinds that allow us to picture how we are going to build that birdhouse or clean out that garage, except that we actually do them, day and night. For those who think linguists are professional grammar police, this book shows the kind of thing linguists actually study, especially promising ones like Bergen who we will surely hear more from in the future.”

Adele Goldberg, Professor of Linguistics, Princeton University
“If you’ve ever wondered how words evoke the meanings they do, whether everyone else’s meanings are just the same as yours, or why computers are so poor at producing decent translations, this is the book for you. Meaning has been the hardest scientific nut to crack, but Bergen delivers us the nutcracker. Louder Than Words is highly engaging, scientifically sound, up to date, and very fun to read.”

George Lakoff, Professor of Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley, and author of Metaphors We Live By, from the Foreword
Louder Than Words is a stunningly beautiful synthesis of the new science of meaning. Benjamin Bergen offers a vivid, enthralling, and—remarkably—even funny introduction to the psychological experiments and brain research showing how your mind really works.”

Sian Beilock, Professor of Psychology, The University of Chicago, and author of Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To
Louder Than Words opens an exciting new window into how humans communicate. With a toolbox of cutting-edge science at his fingertips, Bergen helps us understand how we effectively communicate ideas to others and what it takes to make meaning out of what others say to us.”

About the Author

Benjamin Bergen is an Associate Professor in the Cognitive Science Department at the University of California, San Diego, where he directs the Language and Cognition Lab. Bergen is an active researcher in cognitive linguistics and cognitive science, with over 40 publications and 60 presentations in the two fields. He is regularly invited to lecture in the U.S. and abroad. His work has been featured in "The Atlantic," "New Scientist," and "Science News." Bergen lives in San Diego, California.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (October 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465028292
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465028290
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #351,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By The Professor on January 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book really is great. It is cleverly written, very readable, and full of wonderful information. I am a neuropsychology student and I read on the topics of psychology and neuroscience voraciously. I had previous been convinced of the computational theory of mind, but this book along with a lot of other things I have read have made me abandon that paradigm and explore the embodied cognition and connectionist models of cognition.

Basically, the premise of the book is that we re-appropriate brain modules used for the senses and motor functions (hence embodied) to make simulations about the meanings of words. The book is loaded with psychological and neurological evidence for this. This seems very consistent with the somatic marker hypothesis and other ideas Antonio Damasio discusses in his books. I recommend reading this around the same time as you read Damasio's books.

The author is VERY honest about the shortcomings of the theory and what sort of research needs to be done on the topic to answer those questions. That is a mark of very honest science writing, and for people like me who want to do research, this is helpful because it allows us to get experiment or study ideas. Science cannot progress under the illusion of knowledge so knowing the shortcomings of a theory really can help speed along the pursuit of knowledge.


For those who wish to pursue the idea of embodied cognition further, as well as related perspectives, the book Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds takes a look at embodied cognition and ecological psychology.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By D. Shank on January 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I thought this was a fabulous book. I read a lot of books on science and psychology and neuroscience and the like and I was stunned to learn (at the end of the book) that this was this author's first book. It is extremely well written given the subject and the material it is presenting to (I assume) a mostly unsophisticated audience.

Yes, he covers a lot of studies. I think there must be a rule that no scientist can talk about anything if there is no study behind the point. But what I loved was that it was easy to grasp the rhythm of how he presented information and he always, ALWAYS (which I can't say for all science writers) ends such discussions with a "so here is what it all means" sentence or paragraph. So if I did not care about the details of one study or another I could easily get the meat from the bones and move on.

What really blew me away about this book however were the implications of what he was discussing. The author is way to competent of a scientist to speculate or to launch off on flights of fancy of any kind - but the material is so clearly presented that it is easy for the reader to do such speculation based on what was being said. I do not know if this is what the author intended but I thought it was a powerful aspect of the book.

Here is an example: I have a passion for communications (both real time and across time) and have long believed that we often must resort to metaphor to try to convey meaning to another. And that is where the danger lies because as soon as you explain a thought or idea with a metaphor you are in a never-never land of understanding. The risk is very high that a listener or an audience might mistake the metaphor for the meaning and if that happens all bets are off.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By peejay on January 7, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a good description of the simulation hypothesis of understanding. The author provides descriptions of over 200 different experiments that support this hypothesis. The book is very scientific even though it is accessible to a lay audience. This was achieved by using simple language but describing many experiments. I suspect that a lay person will get lost in some of the details, while a scientist will be bored by some redundancy in the text.

If you want to learn about the simulation hypothesis of understanding this book will provide as an excellent introduction.

Overall I only give it 3 stars because I struggled to get through it, even though I enjoyed learning about the science of understanding.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. Dreyer on May 1, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have not yet finished this book...there is so much to digest in each page that I tend to consume only small portions at a time. But each session reveals new insights to ponder for days. If you want to really think about how you think, read this book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on August 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Ben Bergen's Louder Than Words is a book explaining the "embodied simulation" theory of how brains make meaning out of words. The reader should beware, though, that this theory is not the general consensus in cognitive science (as many readers may be new to this area and Bergen makes it sound like its the only real game in town). For the record, I am not a cognitive scientist but a professor of Education who has done a fair amount of reading and thinking in this area, and for my part, I am not terribly persuaded by Bergen's arguments.

In the first chapter, Bergen takes square aim at probably the dominant view of how the brain makes meaning: the idea of a language of thought, or what Bergen calls "mentalese." In "mentalese," the idea is that every word we hear has some sort of mental representation (like a word, but a unit of thought). This, of course, is a strange theory (at least unless you go into its nuances, which this book doesn't), because understanding a sentence involves something more than just understanding all the words, but understanding how each word interacts with each other, and the idea that the sentence conveys, which seems more than the sum of its words.

So, enter embodied simulation theory. This theory tells us that instead of understanding sentences by 'mentalese,' our minds simulate whatever is going on in the sentence. When I say "the black bear bellows through the cold snow," what is going on in our brain is actually visualizing what this looks like. "Coltrane's A Love Supreme was performed badly last night," involves us simulating this in our heads (visually, auditorily, etc.). What evidence does this theory have going for it?
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