Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind First Edition, Kindle Edition
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About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
- ASIN : B003JTHWQ4
- Publisher : Mariner Books; First edition (April 7, 2009)
- Publication date : April 7, 2009
- Language : English
- File size : 1281 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 263 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #727,962 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Marcus' basic premise, that the human mind is highly flawed from an "engineering" standpoint, is highly compelling (to be accurate- this premise is based on the research of evolutionary biologists and does not necessarily reflect any originality on Marcus' part). In chapters on Memory, Belief, Choice, Language, and Pleasure, the author attributes many of the foibles of human nature to deficiencies in the human mind based on the fact that culture, deliberate reasoning, and long-term planning (vs. reacting in the moment) did not offer survival advantages over the course of the human being's adaptive evolution. Just a few examples of potential weaknesses described include: 1) a contextual (vs. "postal code") memory resulting in an average of 55 minutes per day looking for things we know we own but can't find; 2) an inflated craving for sugar, fat, salt, and sex based on evolutionary scarcity; 3) a tendency to believe things that fit in with our pre-existing beliefs (i.e., confirmation bias); and 4) a tendency to respond to anecdotes vs. data.
This book is interesting even from a purely philosophical perspective; for example, Marcus notes that "evolution didn't evolve us to be happy; it evolved us to pursue happiness"- hence humanity's often tragic and perpetual pursuit of material wealth far beyond necessity.
Marcus doesn't shy away from prescribing ways to cope with these challenges, and devotes his entire closing chapter to "true wisdom" gained by self-consciousness of our minds' limitations. A few of his suggestions include "anticipate your own impulsivity and pre-commit" for example by choosing your groceries a week in advance and not when you are hungry; "don't make important decisions when you are tired or have other things on your mind." He also addresses more comprehensive and far-reaching strategies for addressing the problems of the human mind, such as offering high school classes on informal argument, spotting fallacies, interpreting statistics, and understanding the difference between correlation and causation. I couldn't agree more- but is that my confirmation bias?
It's easy to propose an alternative design for some aspect of the human mind without any real way to test if humans would indeed be better off with it. For instance, Marcus says "in a system that was superlatively well engineered, belief and the process of drawing inferences (which soon become new beliefs) would be separate, with an iron wall between them." But it's not clear to me that this is the best system. Each time we see a bird flying, should we conclude gravity doesn't exist since we're drawing inferences without regard for pre-existing beliefs? Sometimes observations seem to contradict well-founded beliefs and resistance to changing those beliefs is not necessarily irrational or counterproductive (although sometimes it is). Are we better off in the end with some other system? Perhaps, but would our ancestors have been better off with that system in the Pleistocene? It's not as simple a question as Marcus makes it out to be.
The original hardcover version of this book did not include the word "evolution" in the subtitle, and its after-the-fact addition to the paperback reflects the paucity of evolutionary information within. Marcus never really highlighted the crucial fact that our brains are adapted to the ancestral environment in which we evolved, which was in small bands of hunter/gatherers. Many aspects that are poorly designed for the modern world (our endless predilection for salty and fatty foods, for instance) may have been well adapted to life in the Pleistocene (where fat stores could be called upon during periodic food shortages). The same is true for all the hours we spend watching TV (perhaps a substitute for storytelling) or seeking non-procreative sex (sex and procreation, for the most part, could not be decoupled in the Pleistocene). While it remains true that these things are non-adaptive today (from a gene's point of view), it would have been enlightening to know that they were recently adaptive and not just evolutionary shortcomings, as Marcus suggests. He doesn't seem to be an expert on evolution; he mainly relies upon what he sees as imperfections of the modern mind in the modern world without much regard for the evolutionary history of those traits, and is quick to label them as evidence of a sloppy design.
For instance, Marcus cites a study which concludes "teenagers may have an adult capacity to appreciate short-term gain, but only a child's capacity to recognize long-term risk" and concludes "evolutionary inertia takes precedence over sensible design." But isn't it possible that post-pubertal peer acceptance is a critical factor for reproductive success, and therefore reckless susceptibility to peer pressure during teenage years is an adaptation and not just some evolutionary mistake? Studies show that teens actually overestimate the dangers of the activities they partake in, yet they do them anyway to gain peer acceptance. And it plausibly increases their reproductive success to this day, despite contraception.
To be fair, many of the traits described were just as maladaptive in the Pleistocene as they are today and many points remain valid.
For great discussions of mental imperfections, I recommend How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life and Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts ). For a scientifically rigorous (and fairly technical) discussion of the evolutionary history of human mind, I recommend Melvin Konner's The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit . Kluge also offers a brief and simplistic explanation of religion; for an account of the evolutionary origins of religion, I recommend Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained , or for a more technical and scholarly coverage of that subject, Scott Atran's In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Evolution and Cognition Series) .
I highly recommend the book.
However the author takes the indefensible position, that von-Neumann-computer-like "Postal Code Memory" would be superior to the self-tuning, robust quantum-consciousness-network we've got. Probably he has not done any large-scale computer programming !
FORTUNATELY this "postal code rant" is not woven in, really, you can just ignore it and the rest of the book stands on its own as a great read.
Top reviews from other countries
A really good read.
Buy a copy read then give to a mate.
the more people read this the better
Final section is about how to manage, knowing the limitations. This section is quite disappointing. It could have been better.
Overall, its a good read.