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How the Mind Works Paperback – June 22, 2009
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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About the Author
Steven Pinker is a Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He conducts research on language and cognition; writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and The Atlantic; and is the author of ten books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.
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Does this book really give the answers to these kinds of questions? Yes, he gives his answers. And they are satisfying ones, too, so the huge title How the Mind Works. However, I believe that the answers to the seemingly unsolvable questions are not as important as the road toward the answers, strangely, on every step of which, not at the end of them, there lie the Meaning of Life (the final chapter of the book) for me. And that meaning is one good one to live by.
Because we are speaking about huge amount of content, he made most things very short, and the discussions not as deep as they should. The result is that I either agreed with him (most of the time) or disagreed with him (occasionally) but didn't learn much, and I cannot say that I see things in a different manner after reading his book. It also seemed that he presented opinions he disagree with, in a shallow manner that does not represent the common deeper arguments (a kind of a straw man's fallacy).
If you are new to some of the related fields and want to know a little about a lot, then I guess that you will find this book of value.
Pinker also shows how the mind was designed by natural selection to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors faced in their hunter/gatherer existence, which may be why we have such trouble explaining such esoteric concepts as consciousness and sentience.
Pinker does not have a whole lot of respect for Freud, B.F. Skinner, or the Standard Social Science Model, which views the mind as a blank slate at birth. He disdains a moral approach when discussing natural selection, which gets him in trouble with feminists among other value-laden "isms". Instead, he argues for a "module-packed mind" that "allows both for innate motives that lead to evil acts and for innate motives that can avert them."
When discussing the computational mind, Pinker spends a lot of time on the eye. He shows how the eye evolved from light sensitive skin tissue, how humans developed stereoscopic vision leading to a bigger brain, how the brain tricks us into believing that matter is solid, and how seeing in color and in three dimensions led to more brain capacity. Pinker even shows us how the "Mind's eye" works. The eye connects to the brain, but the brain also connects to the eye.
Emotions began with the family and extended to non-family because foragers lived in groups. We love people who carry our genes. Pinker shows how the emotions evolve from the family to non-family relationships using reciprocal altruism. If you grant a favor to another (such as supplying him with meat) and he later returns the favor, you like him. If he cares for you when you are sick with no apparent compensation, you grow to love him. Cheaters inspire other emotions such as anger and resentment and the list grows. Guilt happens when we're cheating and we know it. Sympathy is an emotion for gaining gratitude. Body language ensures that emotions are hard to fake. Most people have scam detectors; you can tell the difference between a real smile and that of a beauty contestant.
Pinker also discusses bi-products of natural selection such as religion, music, philosophy and art. As mentioned earlier, we are blessed (or cursed) with a forager's brain. "The intellect evolved to crack the defense of things in the natural and social world," not answer such questions as "Why do bad things happen to good people?" We are lucky our stone-age minds do as well as they do when tackling complex scientific problems.
Most recent customer reviews
It was very interesting and extremely well written.