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Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind Hardcover – January 23, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mod makes a comeback in an entertaining explanation of brain functioning that cuts the two-hemispheres theory down to size and minces the mind into modules. Coming from a background in evolutionary psychology, Kurzban suggests that the human mind is not the unified operator of actions contributing to survival and success, as many claim and even more assume, but rather a multi-faceted system of functioning parts that are not always on the same side-or even aware of the same information. The modules perform different, often separate, functions, which can account for confusing, inconsistent, and apparently contradictory behavior and speech. Bolstered by recent studies and research, Kurzban makes a convincing and coherent, though hardly comprehensive, case for the modular mind, greatly helped by humorous footnotes and examples. Despite the first-time author's near absolution of hypocrites, promotion of ignorance, comparisons of humans to machines, and criticism of moral stances on abortion and drugs, his most controversial statements lie in the realm of the self; indeed, conventional understanding of a "self" ceases to even be plausible with the modular mind theory. Taking on lofty topics, including truth and belief, Kurzban makes a successful case for changing-and remapping-the modern mind.
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"Bolstered by recent studies and research, Kurzban makes a convincing and coherent . . . case for the modular mind, greatly helped by humorous footnotes and examples. . . . Taking on lofty topics, including truth and belief, Kurzban makes a successful case for changing--and remapping--the modern mind."--Publishers Weekly

"Using humour and anecdotes, [Kurzban] reveals how conflict between the modules of the mind leads to contradictory beliefs, vacillating behaviours, broken moral boundaries and inflated egos. He argues that we should think of ourselves not as 'I' but as 'we'--a collection of interacting systems that are in constant conflict."--Nature

"Robert Kurzban believes that we are all hypocrites. But not to worry, he explains, hypocrisy is the natural state of the human mind. In his book Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind, Kurzban asserts that the human mind consists of many specialized units, which do not always work together seamlessly. When this harmony breaks down, people often develop contradictory beliefs."--Victoria Stern, Scientific American Mind

"Kurzban is a luminary in the growing discipline of evolutionary psychology. . . . [P]rovocative. . . . Kurzban devotes much space to explicating and demonstrating ways in which his theory plays out in our everyday lives."--Library Journal

"With wit, wisdom, and occasional hilarity, Robert Kurzban offers explanations for why we do the things we do, such as morally condemning the sale of human organs and locking the refrigerator at night to keep from snacking. . . . Kurzban touches on some complex topics in a manner that's both smart and accessible. He incorporates a plethora of psychological studies to support his theories but the narrative is never dry. . . . By challenging common assumptions about habits, morality, and preferences, Kurzban keeps readers both entertained and enlightened."--Foreword Reviews

"[Kurzban] argues that . . . internal conflicts are not limited to extreme cases; they occur in everyone's brains, leading to illogical beliefs and contradictory behaviors. That's not necessarily a bad thing, according to Kurzban. In fact, being selectively irrational may give us an evolutionary advantage."--Kacie Glenn, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Robert Kurzban has used his view of evolutionary psychology to pursue the concept of 'self' at the heart of both the discipline of psychology and the everyday understanding of human behavior--which surely is of interest to everyone. . . . The book itself is fresh. Kurzban's style is to take traditional questions and apparently reasonable positions and then demonstrate that reasonableness is actually only so under a set of assumptions--and that if they do not conform to the modularity hypothesis then we ought to rethink."--Tom Dickins, Times Higher Education

"Highly recommended."--Jessica Palmer, Bioephemera blog

"I'm sure that Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite will provoke a lot of controversy, and I'm certain that Kurzban's theses will require further refinement. But what a fascinating read!"--Brenda Jubin, Reading the Markets blog

"[T]here is much that is valuable in Kurzban's book."--Peter Carruthers, Trends in Cognitive Sciences

"We're all inconsistent and self-deceiving, says evolutionary psychologist Robert Kurzban. Our modular minds didn't evolve for consistency, but for patchwork multitasking. . . . As Kurzban says, understanding how and why we can be so 'ignorant, wrong, irrational, and hypocritical' may help us work towards a fairer society."--Susan Blackmore, BBC Focus

"Kurzban brilliantly (and often hilariously) breaks down the system of functional modules, explaining their existence through evolution, and their hypocrisy through a lack of communication. Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite delves into a part of psychology that has famously been ignored by many prominent members in the field."--Haley M. Dillon and Rachael A. Carmen, Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (January 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691146748
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691146744
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,154,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Kurzban is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his PhD from the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and did postdoctoral work in economics and anthropology. In 2008, he won the inaugural Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution from the Human Behavior and Evolution Society.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"I" almost didn't purchase this book - what a serious mistake that would have been! Having read The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self by Philosopher Thomas Metzinger, I felt I was thoroughly acquainted with the notion that there is no self. Also, I have read: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, and How the Mind Works by Psychologist Steven Pinker (all three cited by Kurzban). Now, I don't mean to name drop, I simply say that to say this: Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite is better. Yes, better.

Kurzban states in the Prologue, "This book is...an attempt to explain why we act the way we act, and, perhaps partly in our defense, to show that if we are wrong a lot, well, being right isn't everything. My argument is going to be that much, or at least some, of what makes us ignorant, mind-numbingly stupid - and hypocritical - is that we evolved to play many different kinds of strategic games with others, and our brains are built to exploit the fact that being knowledgeable, right, or morally consistent is not always to our advantage. Because humans are such social creatures, while being right is still really important, it's very far from everything.
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Format: Hardcover
We're living in a world in which social scientists are able to study human behavior in incredibly clever ways--not the least of which is their ability to take pictures of the brain as it implements mysterious patterns of neural finding that somehow eventuate in your getting up to get a sandwich, posting or reading a book review, or letting your dog outside one last time before you head off to bed. But even with all of the clever experiments and pretty pictures of brains in action, most scientists who study complex social behavior couldn't begin--even on their best day--to explain to you how the brain might be structured so as to create behavior.

No matter what else turns out to be true about how the brain gives rise to mind, there is one cardinal principle to remember: The force that creates brains is natural selection, and natural selection operates exclusively by rewarding genes that give rise to good designs with a singular prize: More copies of themselves in the world, courtesy of sexual reproduction. What that means, above all, is that the structures that genes produce are in response to selection pressures that ancestral humans faced while our species was evolving. And there's no such thing as a "general selection pressure;" only specific ones. As a result, the structures in your head can't be general solutions. Whatever you've got up in your brain, then, is bound to be a collection of information-processing mechanisms for solving specific jobs.

Few other books are as effective as Kurzban's fine book at sketching the implications of this cardinal principle for our understanding of human mental life, so on that count alone this is a book worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover
In philosopher Isaiah Berlin's analogy, there is a hedgehog and a fox. The hedgehog who knows a lot about one big idea, and the fox who knows a little about a lot of different ideas. Robert Kurzban appears in this book to be very much a hedgehog: his idea is that our brain is not really a unitary whole so much as a collection of modules that sometimes might communicate with each other and more often might not. There is no "one" in charge in the brain, but it is better compared to a government of many parts, where the "conscious you" is not so much the executive director as the press secretary. The problem is that I am on about page 150, the point where it is evident that Kurzban, the hedgehog, is going to repeat and repeat himself. To put it kindly, the book gets quite a bit repetitive.

Kurzban' thesis, though, is interesting precisely because it is not the best accepted theory in neuroscience (I'm largely taking the authors word for it, as I am by no means an expert on neuroscience). Most neuroscientists, it seems operate on the idea that there must be some 'master controller' in the brain, such that even if different modules do different things, there must be one that is in charge of integrating these things into a unitary experience. Kurzban presents evidence (generally from behavioral economics, behavioral psychology, and neuroscience) that he thinks are better explained by his "modular mind with no "one" in charge" thesis: experiments, say, where a person seemingly deceives themselves by holding two incompatible beliefs at the same time, experiments where someone performs an action but can't explain why (or tries to explain why in a seemingly post-hoc manner).
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