- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Belknap Press; 1 edition (December 15, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674030583
- ISBN-13: 978-0674030589
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 59 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #717,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God 1st Edition
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This is a terrific book that accomplishes its aim of presenting a biological view of how the brain works, and does so in a charming, fetching style. (Joshua R. Sanes, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University)
This is the first scientific book I've read with "attitude." David
Linden is something of a Howard Stern shock jock and there's a lot of heavy breathing in this overview of brain function and the linkage between psychological and brain processes. Linden is clearly a thoughtful scientist and this comes through in his excellent choice of facts and theories to present. This is a very intelligent book. (John Lisman, Professor of Biology, Brandeis University)
[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)
About the Author
?David J. Linden is Professor of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
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What he offers in this book is to be his reader's guide to a "strange and often illogical world of neural function," pointing out during the guided tour "the most unusual and counterintuitive aspects of brain and neural design and explaining how they mold our lives." To what does the book's title refer? Linden offers an explanation (of sorts) on Pages 240-242 when explaining accidental design. What about intelligent design? "The idea of intelligent design is an assertion," not a reality
I wish I had known about Figure 9.2 on Page 244 when I began to read this book. "The Main Evolutionary Constraints on Brain Design" encapsulates the main arguments of Linden's book.
Others have shared their reasons for holding this book in such high regard. I agree with those reasons, of course, while adding two of my own:
First, to the extent possible, unlike Rube Goldberg, Linden explains even the most complicated terms and processes in layman's terms. He does NOT dumb down the material. Rather, he uses a nomenclature that creates access to much of the material for those who such as I who took only the required science courses and refuse to remember anything about them.
Also, I really appreciate Linden's wit. He immediately establishes and then sustains a personal, almost (not quite) collegial rapport with his reader. There is a playful, sometimes irreverent tone to his many of his comments. He obviously enjoys learning and seems to enjoy helping others to learn at least as much.
The book makes many interesting points which are well-reviewed by the other customer reviews herein; overarchingly, it serves as seminal counterpoint to what might be called "brain-worship" - i.e., the tendency to feel overwhelmed by the sheer complexity and marvel of the human brain, and therefore idealize the brain as some sort of inscrutable paragon of bioengineering perfection. In fact, scientific study of the brain reveals many quirks, imperfections, and idiosyncrasies that are the residua of the evolutonary process. Ironic but true that we sensitive, insightful, sentient humans have brains with more in common with baboons, rats, and frogs than we care to admit.
I vacillated between assigning it 5 stars vs. 4 stars. Probably, it is a "5-star" book for people who already have a background in science or medicine, but a "4-star" book for a larger, general audience. Because the brain is so immensely complicated, readers without a lot of science are probably going to skip over some of the technical descriptions of brain development and function, or else feel overwhelmed at times. At a rudimentary level, it is a wonderful, fairly painless introductory textbook of brain science - but still a textbook nonetheless, and therefore slow going at times. At the higher level, it explicates a thesis about the "accidental" nature of the human brain that powerfully dispels the myth of the brain as a miraculously engineered organ of perfection.
I sort of backed into reading The Accidental Mind "accidentally": In studying addictions medicine to obtain a credential in the field, I read an article on the role of the prefrontal cortex in addictions that I found challenging (even though I am a physician), so I decided to back up a bit and read a more general introduction to the prefrontal cortex. That is how I located David Linden's most recent book, "The Compass of Pleasure", published in 2011, which purports to explain the brain structures involved in the human experience of pleasure (and addiction). However, I also stumbled upon "The Accidental Mind" and decided to read it first as a general review of brain organization and activity. I've previewed "The Compass of Pleasure" and I anticipate it to be an even better read than The Accidental Mind; on first blush it appears that Linden has tackled a more manageable topic with "A Compass of Pleasure" and, it appears that he is coming into his own as a science writer for a general audience. Nonetheless, I would enthusiastically recommend The Accidental Mind as an enjoyable and serious introduction to how our brains work.
Most recent customer reviews
This book is littered with "scientific" assumptions about the brain that clearly don't...Read more