- Paperback: 672 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Later prt. edition (January 17, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393318486
- ISBN-13: 978-0393318487
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (264 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,082,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How the Mind Works Later prt. Edition
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Why do fools fall in love? Why does a man's annual salary, on average, increase $600 with each inch of his height? When a crack dealer guns down a rival, how is he just like Alexander Hamilton, whose face is on the ten-dollar bill? How do optical illusions function as windows on the human soul? Cheerful, cheeky, occasionally outrageous MIT psychologist Steven Pinker answers all of the above and more in his marvelously fun, awesomely informative survey of modern brain science. Pinker argues that Darwin plus canny computer programs are the key to understanding ourselves--but he also throws in apt references to Star Trek, Star Wars, The Far Side, history, literature, W. C. Fields, Mozart, Marilyn Monroe, surrealism, experimental psychology, and Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty and his 888 children. If How the Mind Works were a rock show, tickets would be scalped for $100. This book deserved its spot as Number One on bestseller lists. It belongs on a short shelf alongside such classics as Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, by Daniel C. Dennett, and The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, by Robert Wright. Pinker's startling ideas pop out as dramatically as those hidden pictures in a Magic Eye 3D stereogram poster, which he also explains in brilliantly lucid prose. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From Library Journal
MIT's Pinker, who received considerable acclaim for The Language Instinct (LJ 2/1/94), turns his attention to how the mind functions and how and why it evolved as it did. The author relies primarily on the computational theory of mind and the theory of the natural selection of replicators to explain how the mind perceives, reasons, interacts socially, experiences varied emotions, creates, and philosophizes. Drawing upon theory and research from a variety of disciplines (most notably cognitive science and evolutionary biology) and using the principle of "reverse-engineering," Pinker speculates on what the mind was designed to do and how it has evolved into a system of "psychological faculties or mental modules." His latest book is extraordinarily ambitious, often complex, occasionally tedious, frequently entertaining, and consistently challenging. Appropriate for academic and large public libraries.?Laurie Bartolini, MacMurray Coll. Lib., Jacksonville, Ill.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
In a series of sections, Pinker somewhat dis-connectedly jumps through findings from psychology and brain science to illuminate interesting problems. I found the opening sections - on areas like the mind's eye and how the brain is a thinking machine - far less interesting and compelling.
Pinker describes the brain as a machine that has costs (in tissue, energy, and time) and confers benefits. Knowing where the gold is buried in your neighborhood - and whether it's broadly in the northwest quadrant, or specifically underneath the flowerpot - improves your position because it reduces the physical work required to unearth it. That one bit of information allows 1 man to find the gold which would have taken 100 if the digging was done indiscriminately.
There are some very nice thought experiments in this section:
"What if we took [a brain simulation computer] program and trained a large number of people, say, the population of China, to hold in mind the data and act out the steps? Would there be one gigantic consciousness hovering over China, separate from the consciousness of the billion individuals? If they were implementing the brain state for agonizing pain, would there be some entity that really was in pain, even if every citizen was cheerful and light-hearted?"
Each species evolves to fill an ecological niche based on what's available - and humans have taken the cognitive niche, the utilization of a highly evolved symbolic brain to solve problems, and that enables us to "crack the safe" of other species / food sources. "Humans have the unfair advantage of attacking in this lifetime organisms that can beef up their defenses only in subsequent ones. Many species cannot evolve defenses rapidly enough, even over evolutionary time, to defend themselves against humans." Our cognitive process has evolved to be successful in manipulating this physical world and thus much of our thinking is metaphorical in the sense that we organize our thoughts about intangible things "in love", "full of it", "hold it against me" in the conceptual frameworks of space and force.
So the first half of the book is largely a qualitative assessment of how we process information, analogize, and come to conclusions. Pinker walks through the implications of the limitations of our cognitive abilities (again, I would've liked to see more explanation of those limitations in a scientific framework) and what that means for our ability to know, think, and believe.
My favorite sections were toward the end - Hotheads and Family Values - where the implications for social behavior really are the science at hand. Particularly interesting is the section on how anger and rage may have evolved to improve our ancestors negotiating position - if you look crazy and deranged, perhaps it is simply better to accede to your demands. Or how love - an emotion that you cannot to decide to have, and so cannot decide not to have - provides a more credible form of mate acquisition and pairing than any contract or negotiation.
Replicating creatures will help relatives if the benefit to the relative, multiplied by the probability that a gene is shared, exceeds the cost to the animal, that gene would spread in the population. Nepotism broadly defined, then, is another evolutionary strategy, and a successful one. Genes "try" to spread themselves by wiring animals' brains so the animals love their kin and try to keep warm, fed, and safe.
He cites the work of Trivers, who has worked out how the varying parental investments in an offspring (one ovum, nine months, and default child care provision vs. two minutes and a tablespoon of genes) create gender-based mating strategies.
Pinker is quite tactful in slaying the bugaboos of the politically correct, but does ultimately succinctly: "These kinds of arguments combine bad biology (nature is nice), bad psychology (the mind is created by society), and bad ethics (what people like is good)."
A good book is one which throws off another half-dozen additions to the reading list, and Pinker here has me buying new tomes covering everything from Tom Wolfe's critique of white guilt to the latest analysis of people's economic behavior to a history of fashion.
How the Mind Works is worth a read, and I certainly did enjoy it. Nonetheless, there is very little here that you won't find stated more clearly, forcefully, and comprehensively in The Blank Slate, and I would recommend you read that book first.
It is not in my opinion as good a book as The Language Instinct, nor as good as The Blank Slate, which it resembles in some ways (I am reading them simultaneously, though I read TBS years ago for the first time, and you can't help but notice the cross-over). So, I considered giving it four stars. But, then I decided, it is such a powerful performance, and so well written, that it shouldn't get less than five stars just because he didn't surpass himself. I have another book of his on tap and I'm going to get right to it.
I will offer this minor criticism. Have you ever sat through a fireworks display that just never ended? It might have benefitted from a little tighter editing, but it seems like he just doesn't want to leave anything out. If he knows it, he want us to know it too.