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The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization Hardcover – May 8, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (May 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780691145471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691145471
  • ASIN: 0691145474
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #915,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization, is a fascinating and well-grounded exposition of the nature and power of recursion. In its ultra-reasonable way, this is quite a revolutionary book because it attacks key notions about language and thought. Most notably, it disputes the idea, argued especially by linguist Noam Chomsky, that thought is fundamentally linguistic--in other words, you need language before you can have thoughts."--Liz Else, New Scientist

"Michael Corballis has written a delightful book that makes an important contribution to our understanding of the emergence of our unique capacity to communicate using a verbal generative language. . . . Although I do not agree entirely with all of Corballis' positions, I do subscribe to most of them. More importantly I admire the way in which he formulates issues worth thinking about, which alone makes his contribution very valuable. I am happy to recommend this book to both lay readers and experts in the field."--Robert K. Logan, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development

"Engaging."--Australian

"The book nicely represents current trends in evolution-based cognitive science and presupposes very little by way of background."--Mark Aronoff, Quarterly Review of Biology

From the Inside Flap

"Corballis offers a novel synthesis of language, mental time travel, and theory of mind within an evolutionary perspective. The Recursive Mind is very well written for a general readership, but with lots of targeted references for experts."--Michael A. Arbib, coauthor of The Construction of Reality

"This is a wonderful book by an expert writer. Corballis tracks the importance of recursion in the context of language, theory of mind, and mental time travel, and concludes that its emergence explains much about how we became human. He proposes a novel answer to an enduring mystery. This book is a significant achievement."--Thomas Suddendorf, University of Queensland


More About the Author

Michael Corballis was born in New Zealand in 1936, and completed undergraduate and masters degrees there in psychology and mathematics. His PhD in psychology was from McGill University, where he taught from 1968 until 1977. He then returned to the University of Auckland, where he is now Emeritus Professor of Psychology. He enjoys writing in an accessible way about cognitive science, brain science, and evolution. His books include "The Psychology of Left and Right", "Human Laterality", "The Ambivalent Mind", "The Lopsides Ape", and most recently "The Recursive Mind".

Customer Reviews

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See all 10 customer reviews
Corballis' writing is a pleasure to read, although witticisms and asides occasionally distract from his main story.
Jan Werner
Any recreational reader in cognitive science / psychology / philosophy / linguistics / neuroscience / anthropology will recognize much of the material in the book.
Steve
The author explains that this ability of the human brain is what give us language with a grammer as opposed to mere animal signaling.
Peter D. McLoughlin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Jan Werner on June 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Whether or not one agrees with the author's central theses, this is a fascinating and beautifully written book that brings together a wealth of information about how thinking and language have evolved in humans and how this differentiates homo sapiens from apes and other animals.

Corballis believes that animals, and primates in particular, communicate using gestures, and that this is the origin of spoken language in humans. He attributes this evolution to the emergence in homo sapiens of what he calls recursive thought, the ability to think forward and backward in time and to build mental scenarios based on what is remembered and foreseen.

The author builds his case methodically, with clear explanations of important concepts, such as recursion and the theory of mind, that never rely on technical jargon. He points out which basic building blocks of his theories are controversial and clearly defines how his theory builds on, and where it diverges from, the work of Noam Chomsky.

Corballis' writing is a pleasure to read, although witticisms and asides occasionally distract from his main story. While remaining easily accessible to anyone without a background in linguistics or cognitive psychology, there are 65 pages of notes, references and index to assist those who wish to delve more deeply into the subject.

One complaint: Note 5 for chapter 2 is missing and the numbering for all subsequent notes for the chapter are off by 1. This is disconcerting in a book published by one of our most respected academic presses.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Steve on May 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Any recreational reader in cognitive science / psychology / philosophy / linguistics / neuroscience / anthropology will recognize much of the material in the book. The author has gone to the trouble of organizing a substantial amount of research to support his thesis that RECURSION MATTERS. He applies his newfound sensitivity to recursion to a variety of questions that have preoccupied scientists for centuries, such as "What distinguishes the human animal from non-human animals?" and "How and why did human language develop?" If you are interested in such questions, then you will probably enjoy this book.

In the book's conclusion, the author writes:
(p. 221) "[Recursion] was not so much a new faculty, though, as an extension of existing faculties."
(p. 222) "...recursion probably evolved through progressive increases in short-term memory and capacity for hierarchical organization."
I agree with both of these statements. It's odd, then, that the author fails to include vision processing along with theory of mind and mental time travel as supporting his theory. After all, vision is by far our richest and most complex sensory capability, and is well-developed in both human and hon-human animals. Understanding a visual scene involves a hierarchical decomposition of its content, and surely the survival and reproductive advantages of increasingly capable visual processing contributed to our "progressive increase in short-term memory and capacity for hierarchical organization."

Since a recursive structure is merely a special case of a hierarchical structure, I believe that hierarchy rather than recursion is the more fundamental concept. It's possible that our capacity for recursion is just an exaptation of our capacity for hierarchical organization, and so perhaps a future version of this book would be better entitled, "The Hierarchical Mind." However, this is an argument better left for the professionals.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Peter D. McLoughlin on November 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a book about recursion the ability to take an Idea and repeat it over again or nest it in another idea. The author explains that this ability of the human brain is what give us language with a grammer as opposed to mere animal signaling. It makes the human mind fundamentally different from animal minds bequeathing us with true culture and language and is probably the basis of mathematics and logic as well. It argues against a specific language organ but instead a more general ability described above. a good read and new perspective on a the old chestnut "what makes us human?".
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It seems that the theory of recursion as an explanation for human intelligence and language has taken a stronghold in many academic areas such psycho-linguistics, cognitive science and psychology. A read this book as an introduction to the subject and found it incredibly accessible, interesting and enjoyable.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In the early chapters I couldn't get the notion of 'recursive' but after that, this book was really intriguing. The author explains and tells simply and easily how Homo sapiens who was a kind of animals or primates and not special in biology could be special in long history of the earth. With lots of data or articles quoted he leads readers to understand the progression and the depth of human being through chapter by chapter.

I love to recommend this book to anyone who is interested in anthropology and human evolution.
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