Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind First Edition, Kindle Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 51 ratings
Flip to back Flip to front
Audible Sample Playing... Paused   You are listening to a sample of the Audible narration for this Kindle book.
Learn more
ISBN-13: 978-0547238241
ISBN-10: 054723824X
Why is ISBN important?
ISBN
This bar-code number lets you verify that you're getting exactly the right version or edition of a book. The 13-digit and 10-digit formats both work.
Scan an ISBN with your phone
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Kindle App Ad
<Embed>
Loading your book clubs
There was a problem loading your book clubs. Please try again.
Not in a club? Learn more
Amazon book clubs early access

Join or create book clubs

Choose books together

Track your books
Bring your club to Amazon Book Clubs, start a new book club and invite your friends to join, or find a club that’s right for you for free.
Buy
$9.99
Price set by seller.

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

Buy for others

Give as a gift or purchase for a team or group.Learn more

Buying and sending eBooks to others

Select quantity
Buy and send eBooks
Recipients can read on any device

Additional gift options are available when buying one eBook at a time.  Learn more

These ebooks can only be redeemed by recipients in the US. Redemption links and eBooks cannot be resold.

Quantity: 
This item has a maximum order quantity limit.

Inspire a love of reading with Amazon Book Box for Kids
Discover delightful children's books with Amazon Book Box, a subscription that delivers new books every 1, 2, or 3 months — new Amazon Book Box Prime customers receive 15% off your first box. Sign up now

Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.

  • Apple
    Apple
  • Android
    Android
  • Mac and Windows desktops
    Desktop

To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.

kcpAppSendButton
Amazon Business: Make the most of your Amazon Business account with exclusive tools and savings. Login now

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Gary Marcus is a professor of psychology at New York University and director of the NYU Infant Language Learning Center. Marcus received his Ph.D. at age twenty-three from MIT, where he was mentored by Steven Pinker. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, and other major publications. He lives in New York.
--This text refers to the paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Remnants of History

It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.

—Bertrand Russell

Are human beings "noble in reason" and "infinite in faculty" as William Shakespeare famously wrote? Perfect, "in God’s image," as some biblical scholars have asserted? Hardly.
     If mankind were the product of some intelligent, compassionate designer, our thoughts would be rational, our logic impeccable. Our memory would be robust, our recollections reliable. Our sentences would be crisp, our words precise, our languages systematic and regular, not besodden with irregular verbs (sing-sang, ring-rang, yet bring-brought) and other peculiar inconsistencies. As the language maven Richard Lederer has noted, there would be ham in hamburger, egg in eggplant. English speakers would park in parkways and drive on driveways, and not the other way around.
     At the same time, we humans are the only species smart enough to systematically plan for the future—yet dumb enough to ditch our most carefully made plans in favor of short-term gratification. ("Did I say I was on a diet? Mmm, but three-layer chocolate mousse is my favorite . . . Maybe I’ll start my diet tomorrow.") We happily drive across town to save $25 on a $100 microwave but refuse to drive the same distance to save exactly the same $25 on a $1,000 flat-screen TV. We can barely tell the difference between a valid syllogism, such as All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal, and a fallacious counterpart, such as All living things need water, roses need water, therefore roses are living things (which seems fine until you substitute car batteries for roses). If I tell you that "Every sailor loves a girl," you have no idea whether I mean one girl in particular (say, Betty Sue) or whether I’m really saying "to each his own." And don’t even get me started on eyewitness testimony, which is based on the absurd premise that we humans can accurately remember the details of a briefly witnessed accident or crime, years after the fact, when the average person is hard pressed to keep a list of a dozen words straight for half an hour.
     I don’t mean to suggest that the "design" of the human mind is a total train wreck, but if I were a politician, I’m pretty sure the way I’d put it is "mistakes were made." The goal of this book is to explain what mistakes were made—and why.

Where Shakespeare imagined infinite reason, I see something else, what engineers call a "kluge." A kluge is a clumsy or inelegant—yet surprisingly effective—solution to a problem. Consider, for example, what happened in April 1970 when the CO2 filters on the already endangered lunar module of Apollo 13 began to fail. There was no way to send a replacement filter up to the crew—the space shuttle hadn’t been invented yet—and no way to bring the capsule home for several more days. Without a filter, the crew would be doomed. The mission control engineer, Ed Smylie, advised his team of the situation, and said, in effect, "Here’s what’s available on the space capsule; figure something out." Fortunately, the ground crew was able to meet the challenge, quickly cobbling together a crude filter substitute out of a plastic bag, a cardboard box, some duct tape, and a sock. The lives of the three astronauts were saved. As one of them, Jim Lovell, later recalled, "The contraption wasn’t very handsome, but it worked."
     Not every kluge saves lives. Engineers sometimes devise them for sport, just to show that something—say, building a computer out of Tinkertoys— can be done, or simply because they’re too lazy to do something the right way. Others cobble together kluges out of a mixture of desperation and resourcefulness, like the TV character MacGyver, who, needing to make a quick getaway, jerry-built a pair of shoes from duct tape and rubber mats. Other kluges are created just for laughs, like Wallace and Gromit’s "launch and activate" alarm clock/coffeemaker/Murphy bed and Rube Goldberg’s "simplified pencil sharpener" (a kite attached to a string lifts a door, which allows moths to escape, culminating in the lifting of a cage, which frees a woodpecker to gnaw the wood that surrounds a pencil’s graphite core). MacGyver’s shoes and Rube Goldberg’s pencil sharpeners are nothing, though, compared to perhaps the most fantastic kluge of them all—the human mind, a quirky yet magnificent product of the entirely blind process of evolution.

The origin, and even the spelling, of the word kluge is up for grabs. Some spell it with a d (kludge), which has the virtue of looking as clumsy as the solutions it denotes, but the disadvantage of suggesting the wrong pronunciation. (Properly pronounced, kluge rhymes with huge, not sludge. One could argue that the spelling klooge (rhymes with stooge) would even better capture the pronunciation, but I’m not about to foist a third spelling upon the world.) Some trace the word to the old Scottish word cludgie, which means "an outside toilet." Most believe the origins lie in the German word Kluge, which means "clever." The Hacker’s Dictionary of Computer Jargon traces the term back at least to 1935, to a "Kluge [brand] paper feeder," described as "an adjunct to mechanical printing presses."

The Kluge feeder was designed before small, cheap electric motors and control electronics; it relied on a fiendishly complex assortment of cams, belts, and linkages to both power and synchronize all its operations from one motive driveshaft. It was accordingly temperamental, subject to frequent breakdowns, and devilishly difficult to repair—but oh, so clever!

Virtually everybody agrees that the term was first popularized in February 1962, in an article titled "How to Design a Kludge," written, tongue in cheek, by a computer pioneer named Jackson Granholm, who defined a kluge as "an ill-assorted collection of poorly matching parts, forming a distressing whole." He went on to note that "the building of a Kludge . . . is not work for amateurs. There is a certain, indefinable, masochistic finesse that must go into true Kludge building. The professional can spot it instantly. The amateur may readily presume that ‘that’s the way computers are.’"
     The engineering world is filled with kluges. Consider, for example, something known as vacuum-powered windshield wipers, common in most cars until the early 1960s. Modern windshield wipers, like most gizmos on cars, are driven by electricity, but back in the olden days, cars ran on 6 volts rather than 12, barely enough power to keep the spark plugs going and certainly not enough to power luxuries like windshield wipers. So some clever engineer rigged up a kluge that powered windshield-wiper motors with suction, drawn from the engine, rather than electricity. The only problem is that the amount of suction created by the engine varies, depending on how hard the engine is working. The harder it works, the less vacuum it produces. Which meant that when you drove your 1958 Buick Riviera up a hill, or accelerated hard, your wipers slowed to a crawl, or even stopped working altogether. On a rainy day in the mountains, Grandpa was out of luck.
     What’s really amazing—in hindsight—is that most people probably didn’t even realize it was possible to do better. And this, I think, is a great metaphor for our everyday acceptance of the idiosyncrasies of the human mind. The mind is inarguably impressive, a lot better than any available alternative. But it’s still flawed, often in ways we scarcely recognize. For the most part, we simply accept our faults —such as our emotional outbursts, our mediocre memories, and our vulnerability to prejudice—as standard equipment. Which is exactly why recognizing a kluge, and how it might be improved upon, sometimes requires thinking outside the box. The best science, like the best engineering, often comes from understanding not just how things are, but how else they could have been.

--This text refers to the paperback edition.

Product details

  • 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
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.3 out of 5 stars 51 ratings

Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5
51 global ratings
How are ratings calculated?

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States on October 27, 2009
Verified Purchase
7 people found this helpful
Report abuse
Reviewed in the United States on April 25, 2010
Verified Purchase
16 people found this helpful
Report abuse
Reviewed in the United States on October 5, 2014
Verified Purchase
One person found this helpful
Report abuse
Reviewed in the United States on May 28, 2015
Verified Purchase
One person found this helpful
Report abuse
Reviewed in the United States on April 27, 2011
Verified Purchase
One person found this helpful
Report abuse
Reviewed in the United States on August 27, 2015
Verified Purchase
One person found this helpful
Report abuse

Top reviews from other countries

M. Bellamy
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 11, 2014
Verified Purchase
bigbill
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 17, 2013
Verified Purchase
Krisjanis
5.0 out of 5 stars but this is much better.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 12, 2018
Verified Purchase
Panagiotis Mantas
5.0 out of 5 stars Very nice and clever writing
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 6, 2014
Verified Purchase
VeerJain
5.0 out of 5 stars The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind.
Reviewed in India on December 24, 2017
Verified Purchase