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The Political Mind: A Cognitive Scientist's Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics [Kindle Edition]

George Lakoff
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A groundbreaking scientific examination of the way our brains understand politics from a New York Times bestselling author

One of the world 's best-known linguists and cognitive scientists, George Lakoff has a knack for making science make sense for general readers. In his new book, Lakoff spells out what cognitive science has discovered about reason, and reveals that human reason is far more interesting than we thought it was. Reason is physical, mostly unconscious, metaphorical, emotion-laden, and tied to empathy-and there are biological explanations behind our moral and political thought processes. His call for a New Enlightenment is a bold and striking challenge to the cherished beliefs not only of philosophers, but of pundits, pollsters, and political leaders. The Political Mind is a passionate, erudite, and groundbreaking book that will appeal to anyone interested in how the mind works and how we function socially and politically.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lakoff (Don't Think of an Elephant) harnesses cognitive science to rally progressive politicians and voters by positing that conservatives have framed the debate on vital issues more effectively than liberals. According to his research, conservatives comprehend that most brain functioning is grounded not in logical reasoning but in emotionalism—as a result, huge portions of the citizenry accept the Republican framing of the war in Iraq and supporting the troops rather than liberal appeals and phrasing of the occupation in Iraq and squandering tax money. George W. Bush won the presidency by concocting a redemption narrative, persuading tens of millions of voters that his past moral and business shortcomings should be viewed as a prelude to pulling himself up, rather than as disqualifying behavior. While sections of the book employ technical scientific terminology, the author masterfully makes his research comprehensible to nonspecialists. His conclusion—that if citizens and policy-makers better understand brain functioning, hope exists to ameliorate global warming and other societal disasters in the making—will be of vital importance and interest to all readers. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Kent Cassella gives an appropriately somber reading of this scholarly material." ---Library Journal Audio Review

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3.8 out of 5 stars
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171 of 194 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brainy politics vs Enlightenment politics? June 3, 2008
George Lakoff, cognitive scientist and political commentator, returns in The Political Mind to themes already made familiar in earlier books such as Moral Politics (2002), Don't Think of an Elephant (2004) and Whose Freedom? (2007). He argues that political discourse arises from a process of conceptual and metaphorical framing which ultimately is grounded in the way the brain works, and that an understanding of this process is essential for successful political campaigns.

I don't know that there's really anything in The Political Mind that Lakoff hasn't already said in one form or another elsewhere (the primary reason for the three-star rating). But he does stress here what he sees as the errors of the theory of mind he argues was formed by the Enlightenment and which political progressives still assume today. Lakoff characterizes that theory as stressing the transparency of mind, drawing a sharp division between reason and emotion, and assuming that reason is a universal human capacity that accurately describes the world. But nothing in this model, asserts Lakoff, is correct. Much of what we call the mind is unconscious; what we think, because of our tendency to operate through largely unconscious metaphorical frames, is largely constitutive rather than straightforwardly conceptual; and reason is rarely dispassionately reflective.

So what's the connection between all this and politics? Simply, claims Lakoff, that progressive politicians still buy into the Enlightenment model of mind, and operate accordingly in trying to influence voters and win elections. "Rational" arguments in the Enlightenment mode are ineffective because they rest on a false understanding of how the mind works--the assumption that our decisions are made consciously, abstractly, and dispassionately.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How to Frame Political Debates July 18, 2008
We think in metaphors, and words describe metaphors. A metaphor is a description like "He's cold as ice." He's not cold, he's unfriendly, but we know what it means. Metaphors form neural pathways, or connections, between neurons. The more we activate the pathways, the stronger they become, and the more we accept them as true. Metaphors, words, thoughts, and language therefore have a neurological basis that result from physical transformation of brains (actual physiological change to brain cells similar to increased muscle mass that results from weight lifting).

Republicans have intuitively known this and have used language to create metaphors and neural pathways that have become dogmatic in America--example: tax relief, page 234. Relief is not normally connected to taxes (road building, social security, and armed forces result from taxes, not relief). However, tax relief has become a metaphor in the US that is identified as generally good, and puts anyone who criticizes the concept on the defensive.

The conservative Republican model society is based on Old Testament concepts: right and wrong are absolute. It is based on a strict father model (page 78) that relies on discipline. The father tells the children how to behave and punishes them if they do not heed the father. Children learn discipline so they will do the right thing without question (think of Marines who obey commands in the heat of war as described in the book Flags of Our Fathers, James Bradley and Ron Powers, 2001). Obeying authority without questioning it is paramount. That's why Republicans supported President Bush's pardon of Scooter Libby for lying to Congress - Libby was merely obeying orders.
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77 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich, like chocolate cake June 14, 2008
While building on his previous books, Lakoff also gets into a new area: the use of narratives in poltics.The DWIs and purorted drug use of President Bush ,standing alone, never mattered because people saw him through the narrative of Redemption, the overcoming of adversity and the possibility of salvation. The opening section on Anna Nicole Smith and the narratives used to view her contain some of the book's best writing. it also helps explain the power of Senator Clinton---women who have it rough(sex discrimination, faithless husband etc) don't just identify with her, they are her and she is them as she struggled for the nomination. He hammers away ,as before on frames and the building of them. As a trial attorney I see this all the time---if the other side responds to my framing, I will usually win because in telling their "story" they just end up repeating mine. Instead, to be persuasive you must create a different story. The Dems are still having a hard time grasping this fundamental truth.Some good stuff on how we are wired for empathy. He coins a new word "privateering" for what happens when a government function is abandoned by government and handed over to corporations; ie a wealth transfer, think no bid contracts a la Iraq and Katrina.The book is like chocolate cake---almost too rich, and it loses focus as it goes along. Still , it deserves a 5 star rating because it is a book of ideas, which is always welcome, no matter party affliation.
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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars novel, insightful, invaluable June 30, 2009
This is Lakoff's latest and most fascinating elaboration of mind/metaphor theory since its appearance in "Women, Fire and Dangerous Things" (1987). It is arguably the most important, too, as his discussion makes sense of the reasons behind stark differences we may notice in disparate attitudes about pressing things that matter to us here and now - public policies, policy makers, and the institutions of power that touch our lives.

Drawing on the latest brain science and a very nice range of examples to support his case, Lakoff develops logically persuasive and easily understood models for the cognitive cause-and-effect relationships that emerge as political differences. So straightforward are these approaches to discerning and understanding political differences voiced in public discourse that they prove again the case he has been building for what's really going on beneath the surface.

Students/readers of linguistics, communication theory, sociology, political science, cultural studies, philosophy/epistemology would find this book illuminating and invaluable.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Classic cognitive study
Published 22 days ago by Dr. Larry Leibrock
1.0 out of 5 stars Blame Game Bore
Literally no facts are stated in this book. George writes as if his opinions are facts. I figured a "cognitive scientist" would want to back up his reasoning with hard... Read more
Published 28 days ago by Kyle Otten
5.0 out of 5 stars An answer to What's the Matter with Kansas...
Prof. Lakoff has studied how our brain chooses certain responses to political and moral issues. And that depends much on how the issue is framed - what words are used, and how... Read more
Published 4 months ago by William A. Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book that helps you understand thought processes behind politics...
Great book that helps you understand thought processes behind politics It is informative and eye opening and will lead you down another thought process. Read more
Published 5 months ago by C. Fleming
5.0 out of 5 stars You Really Should Read This Book
It gave me a wonderful explanation of how our neural physiology affects our politics. It should be required reading for anybody who votes anywhere in the world. Read more
Published 5 months ago by George A Wolf III
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Clear, concise and pragmatic - just the way I need them to be.
Published 6 months ago by Vincent John Patti
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading
To find answers to the age-old question "why people vote against their self-interest" this book is essential reading. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Douglas D. Graham
1.0 out of 5 stars The (Confused) Political Mind
George Lakoff is a professor of cognitive and linguistic science at Berkeley. His 2008 book, The Political Mind, says “progressives” are losing out because they imagine people... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Frank S. Robinson
2.0 out of 5 stars Based on false premises
The author starts by writing that for decades the majority of Americans have been thinking in a way that makes them think like conservatives think. Read more
Published 14 months ago by James Bonhamton
3.0 out of 5 stars Regurgitated Moral Politics
As a fan of Lakoff's and especially of his previous book on Moral Politics, I was eager to see if Lakoff had come up with new and interesting insights, especially in the ways that... Read more
Published 17 months ago by jurgfella
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More About the Author

George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972. He previously taught at Harvard and the University of Michigan. He graduated from MIT in 1962 (in Mathematics and Literature) and received his PhD in Linguistics from Indiana University in 1966. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Don't Think of an Elephant!, among other works, and is America's leading expert on the framing of political ideas.

George Lakoff updates may be followed on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+. Find these links, a complete bibliography, and more at

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