290 of 353 people found the following review helpful
Not for those who REALLY want to know how the mind works,
This review is from: How the Mind Works (Paperback)This is an unfortunate introduction to the topic of mind and brain.
I have been a researcher in neurophysiology and cognition, and currently am a researcher in artificial intelligence. When I picked up this book to read, I was expecting great things, since Pinker has such a strong "public" reputation. After struggling to find real substance in the book (I read the first 3 chapters and then about 1/3 of each of the remaining chapters), I became curious about what other reviewers had said about it. It was soon clear that there were two camps: those who loved it (five stars) and those who thought it was shallow, misrepresentative, glib, or even pseudo-scientific (1 or 2 stars). Most of those who found it excellent (the vast majority) seemed to be generally unfamiliar with the field, while those who disliked it were usually very familiar with the field.
For the uninitiated or laymen readers, it appears to be a very entertaining and stimulating experience, but I believe it is very unfortunate that the breadth of treatment by Pinker is taken for a great intellectual exercise. On the contrary, he actually says very little of substance about how the mind works, as the informed disappointed reviewers have pointed out. It seems to be mostly a scattered rehashing of old and not particularly illuminating ideas in the field.
I like many other researchers am concerned about conveying the findings in our field to the general public and potential young scholars. But there is a trend in the consumption of science (and knowledge in general) in this society which I find disturbing. We have become consumers of knowledge without serious reflection. We are hooked by books that convey fascinating facts, but little in the way of careful thinking and reasoning, without which these facts have little useful grounding. The result in the case of this book is a long string of "anecdotes" about "what kind of things" minds do without almost no description of how the mind actually works. For those interested in a more meaningful but more intellectually demanding work, I suggest Dennett and some of the other authors cited by previous critical reviewers.
This area is one of the great last frontiers, but one still largely unconquered. Honest researchers would agree that we have only discovered the very tip of the iceberg, and meaningful discoveries are very unlikely to come easily. Any other portrayal does an injustice to this very challenging area.
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Showing 1-10 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 29, 2008 4:01:39 AM PDT
Rock of Ages says:
Are there any other books about how the mind works (geared for the general public) that you recommend?
Posted on Sep 29, 2008 2:15:47 AM PDT
Brendan Frost says:
I strongly doubt that you're correct, in that virtually everything this man does carries a thematic unity far beyond a "list of facts," and the man is incredibly smart. Without doubt he is more theoretical than he is scientific, but it's in his theory and his tendency for nonetheless 'getting it right' that he is intellectually useful. He is well known as the Dawkins of psychology, the writer of the popular science versions of things, but this is good, this IS actually what's best for those not in the field, not looking for detailed information.
Posted on Oct 22, 2008 3:44:52 PM PDT
Dan S. Tong says:
It is a shame you gave this book such a low rating. How could you possibly expect a book aimed at the non professional audience to be a research text? As a former neuroscientist and teacher I along with other scientists despair at what a disconnect there is between science and the ordinary US citizen. We need more scientists who like, the late Carl Sagan, was very capable of explaining science to the ordinary person, as ably pointed out by Michael Crichton in an address to the AAAS. Too many scientists are terrible at this task, they are poor speakers and too often have poor teaching skills.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 3, 2009 3:36:14 PM PDT
O. Buxton says:
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 3, 2009 3:38:27 PM PDT
O. Buxton says:
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 13, 2009 6:28:24 PM PDT
The complaints made in this review are simply ridiculous to anyone who has studied Pinker's book carefully... "struggling to find real substance in the book" -- what a joke.
And to see another ideological anti-Pinkerist and anti-Dawkinist in this thread recommend the pompous, self-congratulatory, utterly overlong and trivial works of S.J. Gould in contrast, that's really too much -- "reconciliation of science and religion", oh my goodness!
Posted on Sep 27, 2009 9:14:26 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 13, 2010 3:00:02 PM PST
Acheron's Flow says:
One star. What do you consider five star? Your reluctance to convey your findings makes me think you consider me a dangerous fungus to be kept in the dark and fed manure. How often is it a good idea to withhold information? Very seldom. There is a severe lack of public reading materiel in this field. Pinker and probably yourself are far beyond me in this area so tell me what you think. Write a better book. As a hands on layman there is something to be said for anecdotes, impressions, and a gut feel. They don't trump science but they have saved my life before and have led to some interesting breakthroughs too.
Dude one star? I sense an anecdotal personal dislike from you towards Pinker, lol. We're not all cog sci Phd's out here and doubt that was his target audience. This book sold so well due to unmet interest in this area. Please write a book. Many of us can handle it. Those that can't won't read it or will freak on something else anyway.
Posted on Mar 6, 2010 7:01:35 PM PST
H. Shukla says:
Please let me know when you write a book of substance. I would like to read it. Thanks.
Posted on Mar 13, 2010 11:46:05 AM PST
You read the "first 3 chapters and then about 1/3 of each of the remaining chapters," and wrote a review saying that the book "says very little of substance." How do you know the substance wasn't in the 2/3rds you didn't read?
Posted on Mar 14, 2010 8:44:55 PM PDT
E S K says: