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The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God Hardcover – March 31, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0674024786 ISBN-10: 0674024788 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; 1 edition (March 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674024788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674024786
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 2.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #543,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The brain, that "cobbled-together mess," is the subject of this lively mix of solid science and fascinating case histories. Linden, a neuroscientist from Johns Hopkins University, offers "the Reader's Digest version" of how the brain functions, followed quickly by the "real biology," before tackling the big questions: Why are people religious? How do we form memories? What makes sleep so vital to mental health? Which is more important, nature or nurture? Linden tackles these problems head on, debunking myths (people do, in fact, use more than 10 percent of their brains) and offering interesting trivia (Einstein's brain was a bit on the small side) along the way. Anti-evolutionary arguments are answered in a chapter titled "The Unintelligent Design of the Brain," in which Linden proposes that it's the brain's "weird agglomeration of ad hoc solutions" that makes humans unique. The book's greatest strength is Linden's knack for demystifying biology and neuroscience with vivid similes (he calls the brain, weighing two percent of total body weight and using 20 percent of its energy, the "Hummer H2 of the body"). Though packed with textbook-ready data, the book grips readers like a masterful teacher; those with little science experience may be surprised to find themselves interested in-and even chuckling over-the migration of neurons along radial glia, and anxious to find out what happens next.
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Review

[A] lively mix of solid science and fascinating case histories... The book's greatest strength is Linden's knack for demystifying biology and neuroscience with vivid similes (he calls the brain, weighing two percent of total body weight and using 20 percent of its energy, the Hummer H2 of the body). Though packed with textbook-ready data, the book grips readers like a masterful teacher; those with little science experience may be surprised to find themselves interested in--and even chuckling over--the migration of neurons along radial glia, and anxious to find out what happens next. (Publishers Weekly (starred review) 2007-03-26)

More than another salvo in the battle over whether biological structures are the products of supernatural design or biological evolution (though Linden has no doubt it's the latter), research on our brain's primitive foundation is cracking such puzzles as why we cannot tickle ourselves, why we are driven to spin narratives even in our dreams and why reptilian traits persist in our gray matter. (Sharon Begley Newsweek 2007-04-09)

Linden tells his story well, in an engaging style, with plenty of erudition and a refreshing honesty about how much remains unknown. The book should easily hold the attention of readers with little background in biology and no prior knowledge of brains. It would make an excellent present for curious non-scientists and a good book for undergraduates who are just entering into the brain's magic menagerie. Even readers trained in neuroscience are likely to enjoy the many tidbits of rarely taught information--on love, sex, gender, sleep and dreams--that spice up Linden's main argument. The Accidental Mind stands out for being highly readable and clearly educational. No doubt, the human brain evolved along a constrained path and is, in some respects, designed imperfectly. Linden will send that message home...We still know too little about the brain's inner workings to judge how well it does its job. What we do know, and what The Accidental Mind helps us to realize, is that the human brain is not designed as many have imagined. (Georg Striedter Nature 2007-06-07)

The majority of this book is an enjoyable neurosciences primer for the general reader. Evolutionary and psychological perspectives provide occasional insights about the mind, but mostly the subject here is the organ capable of conjuring it into existence. Linden makes clear that the physical substrate of our mental phenomena--the squidgy and haphazard mass of our brain--is a gloriously evolved muddle. (Druin Burch Times Literary Supplement 2007-06-01)

Many popular neuroscience books emphasize the brain's complexity using terms of purpose: this region is for emotion, that one for vision, and so forth, each interacting in a perfectly designed whole. This ambitious, engaging, and often irreverent book by Linden adopts a quite different perspective, instead emphasizing the evolutionary origins of the human brain...The book...end[s] with a well-argued discussion of the tension between neuroscience and intelligent design. The emphasis on evolution is laudable...making this book an important counterpoint to breathless paeans to brain design. (S. A. Huettel Choice 2007-08-01)

For anyone interested in a skillfully guided tour through the world of neural function, The Accidental Mind is a playful yet academically informed work that addresses issues as diverse as intelligent design, the fallibility of the senses, the human religious impulse, and the possible heritability of sexual orientation. Without overwhelming the reader with the biochemical underpinnings of neural function, Linden explores the role that neural design (structure and function) has in the explication of various human behaviors. (Charles J. Alt History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 2007-12-01)

Linden provides an accessible and up to date guide through this maze [that is the brain]. (Steven Rose The Guardian 2008-12-27)

More About the Author

David J. Linden is a Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His laboratory has worked for many years on the cellular substrates of memory storage in the brain and a few other topics. He has a longstanding interest in scientific communication and serves as the Chief Editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his two children. David's site and blog may be found at davidlinden.org

Customer Reviews

This book is fairly easy reading but is aimed at those with at lease some background in science.
Allen Mann
If you want to know how the human brain has evolved to bring us to who we are, this is a good book for a start.
Richard Weston
With his book "The Accidental Mind", David Linden has given us a wonderful tour of our own brains.
John J. Turley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 89 people found the following review helpful By John J. Turley on April 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With his book "The Accidental Mind", David Linden has given us a wonderful tour of our own brains. He describes this organ and its many interweaving functions 'from the ground up', carefully using terms and analogies that a non-scientist would understand. Dispelling the notion that the brain is either perfect or efficient, David examines this organ as it exists in animals and humans, with the focus on the latter. We begin with basic brain chemistry and mechanisms, and then delve chapter by chapter into such fascinating topics as memory, emotions, personality, sexuality, and dreams. As a professor at Johns Hopkins University, David has access to all the latest research. He covers each subject in just enough detail while leaving out the more technical aspects. This is not another dull textbook, as David laces it with both humor and the occasional personal anecdote. Near the end, David suggests why the human mind would believe in God. He delicately handles this contentious subject by not saying whether God exists (or not). Rather, David proposes reasonably why the mind would be inclined to believe.
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Linden's "The Accidental Mind" is a neat little book. He has two main purposes: (a) to write a readable introduction on brain science, accessible to nonspecialists; (b) to make the case that (page 6) `. . .the brain is an inelegant and inefficient agglomeration of stuff, which nonetheless works surprisingly well." As to the first point, this volume is a far cry from the magnificent work, Michael Gazzaniga's The Cognitive Neurosciences III: Third Edition. However, if one is not well steeped in knowledge and understanding of the neurosciences, Gazzaniga's edited work is close to impenetrable. This book is well and crisply written, explaining simply how neurons work the structure of the brain, how the brain develops, and so on.

As to the second point? He asserts that, quoting Francois Jacob (Page 6), "'Evolution is a tinkerer, not an engineer." That is, evolution operates on organisms as they are and then the process of change takes advantage of the material already existent to adapt to new conditions and challenges. Thus, the human brain is mounted on older, more primitive structures, in an ill fitting complex. As he says (page 21): "The brain is built like an ice cream cone (and you are the top scoop): Through evolutionary time, as higher functions were added, a new scoop was placed on top, but the lower scoops were left largely unchanged."

Thereafter, he speaks of the structure of the brain, how the fully mature human brain develops (with both nature and nurture having roles to play), how the brain is associated with all manner of emotions, learning, religion, and so on.

The Ninth chapter has a title that speaks directly to Linden's first theme--"The Unintelligent Design of the Brain.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Allen Mann on May 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is a good introduction to many of the things we know and don't know about how mammalian (especially human) brains work. I see it as a story, starting with some basic bio and neuro chemistry, hitting some brain architecture, and proceeding to touch on learning and memory, sleeping and dreaming, love, and even religion. The climax of the story is the "unintelligent" design of the brain and how it relates to arguments of intelligent design.

This book is fairly easy reading but is aimed at those with at lease some background in science. Prof. Linden is at the top of his game professionally and has a great sense of humor (check out the Absolut Purkinje on his web page at Johns Hopkins!). As you'd expect from a general intro, there isn't too much depth here. When you get hungry for more, The Quest for Consciousness by Christof Koch delivers the next step up in a technical overview of brain function and contains a much more extensive bibliography.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Michael D. Mauk on April 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
With this fun and clearly written book the author addresses a common misconception about the brain: that its design is optimal. The brain is amazing, it makes us amazing, but Linden walks us through science showing that its design is better described as haphazard. Using a computer program as a metaphor, the brain's design is not indicative of great forethought and upfront planning. Instead, it looks more like a simple program that was then adapted to be more complex again and again. The result, like simple computer programs that are slowly adapted to be more complex, is that some of the organization is unfortunate, non-optimal, and at times even a little bizarre. David Linden develops this argument with great wit, clarity and sound logic. Read this book to broaden your view of yourself and the world.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on April 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The greatest fear among those who reject Charles Darwin's "Dangerous Idea" is the implications the concept holds for human beings. Our brain, they often claim, demonstrates how far we are from the other animals. It must have been designed by "divine intelligence". Not so, says David Linden. Our brain is something cobbled together over millions of years, parts and functions being added over time to produce that kilogramme of matter in our heads. He likens the building-up process to a multi-scoop ice cream cone. In this finely written overview, he explains the brain's structure and functions, relating them to earlier sources with clarity and wit.

The bottom of the ice-cream cone is the brainstem, an ancient structure controlling much of the body's major systems like heartbeat and breathing. Many of the body's communication with the rest of the brain pass through this part. Above the brainstem is the cerebellum, the first "scoop". The cerebellum acts as a signal filter, inhibiting "expected" sensations like your clothing against your skin. When something detectable as not part of "normal" conditions arises, the cerebellum passes those signals to the rest of the brain. That's when the real action begins. Above the cerebellum lies the midbrain, which is the first recipient of visual and sound signals. In some animals, such as frogs, he notes, this is the primary sensory area. Our midbrain, Linden declares, is symbolic of what he calls "brain kludge". It's an archaic region retained from earlier ancestral creatures for very limited processes. Moving upward and forward we encounter two elements, the thalamus and hypothalamus, the former being a major relay station for signals within and to and from the brain.
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