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You've probably seen it before: a human brain dramatically lit from the side, the camera circling it like a helicopter shot of Stonehenge, and a modulated baritone voice exalting the brain's elegant design in reverent tones. To which this book says: Pure nonsense. In a work at once deeply learned and wonderfully accessible, the neuroscientist David Linden counters the wi You've probably seen it before: a human brain dramatically lit from the side, the camera circling it like a helicopter shot of Stonehenge, and a modulated baritone voice exalting the brain's elegant design in reverent tones. To which this book says: Pure nonsense. In a work at once deeply learned and wonderfully accessible, the neuroscientist David Linden counters the widespread assumption that the brain is a paragon of design--and in its place gives us a compelling explanation of how the brain's serendipitous evolution has resulted in nothing short of our humanity. A guide to the strange and often illogical world of neural function, The Accidental Mind shows how the brain is not an optimized, general-purpose problem-solving machine, but rather a weird agglomeration of ad-hoc solutions that have been piled on through millions of years of evolutionary history. Moreover, Linden tells us how the constraints of evolved brain design have ultimately led to almost every transcendent human foible: our long childhoods, our extensive memory capacity, our search for love and long-term relationships, our need to create compelling narrative, and, ultimately, the universal cultural impulse to create both religious and scientific explanations. With forays into evolutionary biology, this analysis of mental function answers some of our most common questions about how we've come to be who we are. (20070601)


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You've probably seen it before: a human brain dramatically lit from the side, the camera circling it like a helicopter shot of Stonehenge, and a modulated baritone voice exalting the brain's elegant design in reverent tones. To which this book says: Pure nonsense. In a work at once deeply learned and wonderfully accessible, the neuroscientist David Linden counters the wi You've probably seen it before: a human brain dramatically lit from the side, the camera circling it like a helicopter shot of Stonehenge, and a modulated baritone voice exalting the brain's elegant design in reverent tones. To which this book says: Pure nonsense. In a work at once deeply learned and wonderfully accessible, the neuroscientist David Linden counters the widespread assumption that the brain is a paragon of design--and in its place gives us a compelling explanation of how the brain's serendipitous evolution has resulted in nothing short of our humanity. A guide to the strange and often illogical world of neural function, The Accidental Mind shows how the brain is not an optimized, general-purpose problem-solving machine, but rather a weird agglomeration of ad-hoc solutions that have been piled on through millions of years of evolutionary history. Moreover, Linden tells us how the constraints of evolved brain design have ultimately led to almost every transcendent human foible: our long childhoods, our extensive memory capacity, our search for love and long-term relationships, our need to create compelling narrative, and, ultimately, the universal cultural impulse to create both religious and scientific explanations. With forays into evolutionary biology, this analysis of mental function answers some of our most common questions about how we've come to be who we are. (20070601)

30 review for The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    Description: You've probably seen it before: a human brain dramatically lit from the side, the camera circling it like a helicopter shot of Stonehenge, and a modulated baritone voice exalting the brain's elegant design in reverent tones. To which this book says: Pure nonsense. In a work at once deeply learned and wonderfully accessible, the neuroscientist David Linden counters the widespread assumption that the brain is a paragon of design--and in its place gives us a compelling explanation of h Description: You've probably seen it before: a human brain dramatically lit from the side, the camera circling it like a helicopter shot of Stonehenge, and a modulated baritone voice exalting the brain's elegant design in reverent tones. To which this book says: Pure nonsense. In a work at once deeply learned and wonderfully accessible, the neuroscientist David Linden counters the widespread assumption that the brain is a paragon of design--and in its place gives us a compelling explanation of how the brain's serendipitous evolution has resulted in nothing short of our humanity. A guide to the strange and often illogical world of neural function, The Accidental Mind shows how the brain is not an optimized, general-purpose problem-solving machine, but rather a weird agglomeration of ad-hoc solutions that have been piled on through millions of years of evolutionary history. Moreover, Linden tells us how the constraints of evolved brain design have ultimately led to almost every transcendent human foible: our long childhoods, our extensive memory capacity, our search for love and long-term relationships, our need to create compelling narrative, and, ultimately, the universal cultural impulse to create both religious and scientific explanations. With forays into evolutionary biology, this analysis of mental function answers some of our most common questions about how we've come to be who we are. Sheeit - here we have an author who thinks he's funny yet he truly is not, this is going to be a slog to get through... LATER: I blanked out the 'style', concentrated on just-the-facts-ma'am and became fully engaged. AT THE END - I thought Linden put over fact that the brain is not a great construction well, which shoots the intelligent design acolytes out of the water. The profligate brain as ice-cream cone with three scoops: neat analogy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    Linden's 'The Accidental Mind'explores popular questions of neuroscience in an educational, yet accessible and entertaining manner. Judged purely by its raw data content, there is nothing new or revolutionary in this book (but then it was written in 2007, some of it might have been news 8 years ago). Anyone with a fleeting interest in the subject will already have heard about most of the theories and neurological processes that the author discribes (theories about how and why we dream, possible ca Linden's 'The Accidental Mind'explores popular questions of neuroscience in an educational, yet accessible and entertaining manner. Judged purely by its raw data content, there is nothing new or revolutionary in this book (but then it was written in 2007, some of it might have been news 8 years ago). Anyone with a fleeting interest in the subject will already have heard about most of the theories and neurological processes that the author discribes (theories about how and why we dream, possible causes of gender-disphoria, how memory works and arguments for and against monogamous relationships, among others). No, what makes this book well worth reading is not its factual information, but the unorthodox approach Linden takes towards the subject: Instead of praising the brain's elegance and utter perfection, as so many other similar works are wont to do, Linden describes the brain with an irreverence, that is as refreshing, as it is eye-opening. Through Linden's eyes, the reader learns to see the brain not as the pinnacle of evolutionary craftsmanship, but as a rough and ready construction - built by necessity not by design - needlessly complicated, with plenty of bits and pieces that are - stricly speaking - redundant. It is through this irreverence, that the reader gains a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of evolution and - paradoxically - a deeper appreciation for the serendipitous accident that is the human mind. The writing itsself is as informative as it is entertaining. The author delves a bit deeper into the actual science of the brain's mechanisms than many other books written for the layman do, introducing technical terms where necessary, but neither flaunts the jargon, nor leaves the less scientifically inclined reader behind: Linden's descriptions are supplemented with light hearted jokes and colourful metaphors and similies, that make it easy to follow his observations and explanations. When discussing the possible origins of specific human behaviour, like for example the nature vs. nurture question concerning sexuality and gender roles, Linden manages to avoid the typical clichés and instead augments the facts and theories he presents with countless examples from a wide range of different cultures. The only thing I would criticise about this book is Linden's passionate refutation of 'Intelligent Design'. As others have stated before, he is indeed preaching to the choir, and while the idea of Intelligent Design may be an issue in the US, for the rest of the world it is much like reading someone fervently explaining that the earth is - in fact - not flat. Apart from that I enjoyed reading this book quite a lot. I'd freely recommend this to anyone interested in the subject.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I didn't really learn much from this book; the examples of behavior in animals and humans, as well as the description of brain biology and neurochemistry, were all things I have read about before in various other sources. The author tries to be witty, but I don't find him funny. The last couple of chapters are way out in left field: first an extremely speculative chapter about how the left cortex's predilection for creating a narrative to explain/justify what we sense of the world could be respo I didn't really learn much from this book; the examples of behavior in animals and humans, as well as the description of brain biology and neurochemistry, were all things I have read about before in various other sources. The author tries to be witty, but I don't find him funny. The last couple of chapters are way out in left field: first an extremely speculative chapter about how the left cortex's predilection for creating a narrative to explain/justify what we sense of the world could be responsible for religion/god memes that seem to appear across cultures, followed by a chapter summing up how inefficient the brain is, which degenerates into a mild attack on the 'intelligent design' folks (the author preaches to the choir about what is and is not science). I had high hopes that this book would be interesting, novel, or fun, but found it disappointing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Todd N

    Read this based on the strength of Compass Of Pleasure. This is one of those Copernican/Darwinist/Hubble Deep Field science jobs that almost gleefully describes just what an insignificant, accident of a mess humanity happens to be. Some people might reach for their whiskey or their Bible, but I say, "Bring it on, Dr. Linden! Tell me what a poorly-designed sack of waffle batter my brain is, but please hurry before North Korea bombs us." The thing is that a lot of brain science is still in its infan Read this based on the strength of Compass Of Pleasure. This is one of those Copernican/Darwinist/Hubble Deep Field science jobs that almost gleefully describes just what an insignificant, accident of a mess humanity happens to be. Some people might reach for their whiskey or their Bible, but I say, "Bring it on, Dr. Linden! Tell me what a poorly-designed sack of waffle batter my brain is, but please hurry before North Korea bombs us." The thing is that a lot of brain science is still in its infancy, so what we don't know is dwarfed by the meager amount of knowledge scientists have scraped together. But the picture that is emerging makes one wonder how the brain even works. Sort of like the time I took apart a VCR. The first part of the book goes over the basics of brain biology. It's sort of heavy going, but that's what you get with a science book written by an actual scientist and not one of those mid-career English-major journalists. I learned cool stuff like the fact that on average an excited neuron will cause another neuron to fire only about 30% of the time. Neurotransmitters are released from the axon, they mosey along through the fluid in the synapse, where they bump in to the dendrite of the next neuron. Enzymes in the synapse will break down the neurotransmitters eventually, so that the synapse will be ready to fire again. Basically the connections in the brain are slow and unreliable and inefficient. (Sort of like some HP switches I worked with at my last job. Just kidding!) Dr. Linden uses the metaphor of an ice cream cone to explain the human brain. The bottom scoop is the earliest, most primitive brain that controls autonomous functions. The middle scoop is more recent and handles memories, emotions, and even has an extra visual center that we don't use. The huge top scoop is the most recently evolved part of the brain. It is responsible for stuff like intelligence, symbolic reasoning, and occasional death of the mother during childbirth. With that stuff out of the way, we get a quick tour of what is known about different aspects of the brain. Doing the research sounds ghastly because you either have to wait for a human to get a horrible brain injury and then study him or her, or you have to do something very unnatural to an animal (usually a primate). [[[Aside: I'm surprised that this book hasn't inspired those plain-looking girls of PETA to take off their clothes. Seems like they are always looking for a reason to expose their not-quite-hotness to the web.]]] The research seems to be moving pretty quickly -- though not at the exponential rate that our transhumanist friends are so fond of predicting -- so maybe this book will be obsolete in a few years. But until then, I posit that reading this book is the equivalent of reading several books on religion, philosophy, and ethics. A few examples: Q: Why do we dream? A: As near as they can tell, the brain is storing memories and making connections between them. Sometimes they get moved around. (In fact damage to the area around the hippocampus can prevent new memories from being formed even though memories from around two years ago remain in tact.) Also, somehow the emotional circuitry is related to memory storage, so the brains hijacks that to help burn the memories into the brain. This results in dreams with highly emotional content, like nightmares and anxious dreams. Q: Why are dreams so trippy? A: Apparently, the left hemisphere is this crazy narrative-producing machine that is constantly coming up with stories that assimilate whatever crazy stuff the brain comes up with. It never turns off. There also may be some useful functions to having the brain imagine scenarios in which normal physical rules don't apply. Q: Why do humans tend to form long-term monogamous relationships (meaning lasting for several menstrual cycles)? A: This one is kind of nutty. It reminded me of the chapter on Schopenhauer in Alain de Botton's excellent book The Consolations Of Philosophy. Basically, our brain is too huge and has too many connections to be encoded solely in DNA. So the brilliant solution is that babies are born with their brains about half done and just barely able to fit through a birth canal -- hence the relatively common occurrence of death in childbirth, which is unique to humans. The rest of the wiring and growth occurs outside the body and in response to stimuli. Neurons that aren't used wither away; ones that are get strengthened. Q: That doesn't really answer the question A: So because the babies are born with unformed brains, it takes two parents to raise a human baby because they are basically worthless for the first 10 or so years. The brain isn't finished forming until about 25, at which point a human is able to rent a car. So men have to stick around for several menstrual cycles to make sure that they aren't putting a bunch of effort into helping raise someone else's DNA. The fact that it's really hard to tell when human females are fertile (compared to most other species) helps this process along. Also the release of oxytocin after having sexy time and during breast feeding helps to keep mom, dad, and kid all bonded together. There are a bunch of exceptions to this in actual society, but that's the gist of it. Q: Why is there religion? A: Another byproduct of the narrative-producing left hemisphere. That reminds me. A friend of mine almost died in Germany and spent six weeks in intensive care in a semi-lucid state. When I asked him about it, he said that his brain kept making up scenarios about being there, including dialogue (which was in German and which he clearly didn't understand). Several parts of this book seemed to corroborate what he was saying. Q: Why are people so obnoxious and stupid when they are in the first stages of a relationship? A: According to brain scans of people who are madly in love, when they are shown pictures of the object of their affection the following happen: 1. The pre-frontal cortex (responsible for critical thinking and judgement) shows reduced activity, 2. The pleasure and emotion centers light up like Baghdad in March 2003, and 3. the cerebellum (part of the motion circuitry) starts firing, ostensibly because the person is replaying sexy time in his/her mind. There you go: Romeo And Juliet, the biology version. Q: What about orgasms? A: It appears that men and women have very similar orgasms, though women have longer ones. I was surprised that anyone could achieve orgasm in a lab, strapped down to an MRI machine, but then I remembered what I was like in my early twenties. Highly recommended. Fascinating book that will either drive you to despair or fill you with wonder.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mag

    Linden sets out to prove that our brains more closely resemble inefficient clunkers reflecting millions of years of evolutionary tinkering, rather than sophisticated, well-designed and amazing intelligent creations. He discusses the structure of our brain from the lower evolutionary parts of the brain stem and cerebellum through the more recent frontal lobes and cortex. When discussing the brain’s design, he uses a cool example of a supermodern racecar built on the Ford T plan, in which nothing Linden sets out to prove that our brains more closely resemble inefficient clunkers reflecting millions of years of evolutionary tinkering, rather than sophisticated, well-designed and amazing intelligent creations. He discusses the structure of our brain from the lower evolutionary parts of the brain stem and cerebellum through the more recent frontal lobes and cortex. When discussing the brain’s design, he uses a cool example of a supermodern racecar built on the Ford T plan, in which nothing of the original Ford T plan is to be dropped or replaced, and the new systems are to be built in addition and/or on top of the old ones. This is precisely how we ended up having two visual and two auditory systems in our brains- one ancient and one more modern. This is how congenitally blind people can in fact perceive movement and objects even though they don’t consciously realize that. It’s their ancient visual system at work. Linden also discusses the way our brain communicates within itself and how we come up with a picture of the world that is both physical and abstract. From what I understand, even though there are parts of the brain designated to perform specialized functions, the whole brain with all its parts creates the memories and images of what we perceive and know. Worldviews, dreams and religious views are an inherent feature of our brains creating narratives. All in all, the book is a wonderfully balanced review of what we do and don’t know about the brain and the best debunking of intelligent design I have read in a while. As a PS, there were some nice observations on sex in mammals and how humans compare to others. What caught my attention was the discussion of ovulation in females and the fact that the hidden ovulation of human females keeps males around since they never know when females are fertile. The joke is that females don’t know either, so they have to keep the males around as well (that wasn't in the book;), so the pair bonding is a must here because of that. A note for audiobook fans. It's read in an outstandingly clear performance by Ray Porter. 4.5/5

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    David Linden's "The Accidental Mind" is a neat little book. He has two main purposes: (a) to write a readable introduction on brain science, accessible to nonspecialists; (b) to make the case that (page 6) `. . .the brain is an inelegant and inefficient agglomeration of stuff, which nonetheless works surprisingly well." As to the first point, this volume is a far cry from the magnificent work, Michael Gazzaniga's The Cognitive Neurosciences III: Third Edition. However, if one is not well steeped David Linden's "The Accidental Mind" is a neat little book. He has two main purposes: (a) to write a readable introduction on brain science, accessible to nonspecialists; (b) to make the case that (page 6) `. . .the brain is an inelegant and inefficient agglomeration of stuff, which nonetheless works surprisingly well." As to the first point, this volume is a far cry from the magnificent work, Michael Gazzaniga's The Cognitive Neurosciences III: Third Edition. However, if one is not well steeped in knowledge and understanding of the neurosciences, Gazzaniga's edited work is close to impenetrable. This book is well and crisply written, explaining simply how neurons work the structure of the brain, how the brain develops, and so on. As to the second point? He asserts that, quoting Francois Jacob (Page 6), "'Evolution is a tinkerer, not an engineer." That is, evolution operates on organisms as they are and then the process of change takes advantage of the material already existent to adapt to new conditions and challenges. Thus, the human brain is mounted on older, more primitive structures, in an ill fitting complex. As he says (page 21): "The brain is built like an ice cream cone (and you are the top scoop): Through evolutionary time, as higher functions were added, a new scoop was placed on top, but the lower scoops were left largely unchanged." Thereafter, he speaks of the structure of the brain, how the fully mature human brain develops (with both nature and nurture having roles to play), how the brain is associated with all manner of emotions, learning, religion, and so on. The Ninth chapter has a title that speaks directly to Linden's first theme--"The Unintelligent Design of the Brain." Here, he slyly critiques advocates of the "Intelligent Design" perspective by noting that the brain is hardly an exemplar of some great design. As noted already, he sees the brain as inefficient and "jury-rigged." This is a book that provides plenty of insight into how neuroscientists study the structure and function of the brain--and presents some of the exciting possibilities for future research. In sum, this is a work that ought to be attended to by those interested in the brain sciences, but who cannot readily read the technical literature.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Merilee

    This is an excellent book by neuroscientist David Linden which describes how our brain has evolved kind of like one scoop of ice cream on top of another. There is no master plan, rather everything wonderful that our brains are able to do is the result of this jury-rigged Rube Goldberg edifice. Interesting chapters on love and sex and sleep and dreams, among others.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chris Friend

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This text is an enjoyable read that is well-paced and builds solidly from a simple, approachable beginning to a fairly high-level conclusion. It's that conclusion that gives me pause. The subtitle of the book lists memory, dreams, and God as equal pieces of a whole. To be sure, the content of the text is divided fairly among these ideas, and the author does proceed in the stated order through the concepts. What I can't shake is the feeling that the book is created with the goal of arguing that Go This text is an enjoyable read that is well-paced and builds solidly from a simple, approachable beginning to a fairly high-level conclusion. It's that conclusion that gives me pause. The subtitle of the book lists memory, dreams, and God as equal pieces of a whole. To be sure, the content of the text is divided fairly among these ideas, and the author does proceed in the stated order through the concepts. What I can't shake is the feeling that the book is created with the goal of arguing that God is a dream. It's not the conclusion I expected from an otherwise non-controversial text, and it was a rather odd sentiment with which to conclude. Again, I don't fault the author for choosing the subjects he chose—they are each interesting and worthy topics. I don't fault him for arranging them in the order he chose—they build off one another in a necessary and rational progression. I merely question whether he ended where he intended. I found myself questioning the purpose of the text once I saw where it ultimately led, and I felt that the author made the text a religious argument, though I can't determine if it's an intentional move. To his credit, Linden takes pains to state that he is not questioning or discrediting religions or religious beliefs. But when, only paragraphs later, he deliberately juxtaposes our brain's instinct to create false narratives to explain the world around us, that word "false" hangs heavy, laden with a shadowy doubt that gets cast upon the origins of religious thought. The inescapable conclusion to reach is to wonder whether the very idea of God is simply a creation of the human mind as a fictional narrative to connect disparate ideas. I have no issues with that suggestion; it's a fascinating thought experiment at the very least. I'm simply uncomfortable opening a book expecting to read about the construction of our brains only to close the book questioning the construction of God. I enjoyed the book but was left unsettled.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    I didn't love his section on gender and the brain. However, everything else was spectacular. This may be one of my favorite nonfiction science books of all time. Without a doubt, it is most interesting book on the topic of neuroscience that I have seen. Chapters one and two alone were worth the 5 star rating. From the tiniest processes to the large overall picture, Linden puts what we know about neuroscience together in the best possible way. If you remotely like brain science or evolution, you I didn't love his section on gender and the brain. However, everything else was spectacular. This may be one of my favorite nonfiction science books of all time. Without a doubt, it is most interesting book on the topic of neuroscience that I have seen. Chapters one and two alone were worth the 5 star rating. From the tiniest processes to the large overall picture, Linden puts what we know about neuroscience together in the best possible way. If you remotely like brain science or evolution, you will love this.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    *Accidentally human* Wrap your brain around this book and you'll come away with a better understanding of what makes us human. The author's mission in writing this book is to show how "almost every aspect of transcendent human experience, including love, memory, dreams, and even our predisposition for religious thought, ultimately derives from the inefficient and bizarre brain engineered by evolutionary history." (p. 27) And, with wit, wisdom--and at times, a lot of technical detail--he does just *Accidentally human* Wrap your brain around this book and you'll come away with a better understanding of what makes us human. The author's mission in writing this book is to show how "almost every aspect of transcendent human experience, including love, memory, dreams, and even our predisposition for religious thought, ultimately derives from the inefficient and bizarre brain engineered by evolutionary history." (p. 27) And, with wit, wisdom--and at times, a lot of technical detail--he does just that. More an accidental agglomeration than an intelligent design, the brain has three main constraints: (1) It has never been redesigned from the ground up but instead, is reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg contraption and is "built like an ice cream cone with new scoops piled on at each stage of our lineage." (p. 242) (2) It's not able to turn off its control systems, even when they are counterproductive. (3) Neurons--the basic processing units of the brain--are slow, leaky, unreliable, and inefficient. But, it turns out that these same evolutionary constraints are what make us human. For example, memory is a product of the experience-dependent fine-wiring of the brain necessary for the portion of the brain development which must occur after birth, lest our brains would be too big to fit through the birth canal. To be useful, memory must be integrated and consolidated at night (when sensory stimulation is absent), and these same processes are what dreams are made of. Dreams are also supported by left cortex's always-on narrative creation system, and this natural human tendency for a coherent narrative also predisposes us to the "religion impulse." And, to deal with the evolutionary constraint that humans are born with highly immature brains and thus need extensive parental cooperation to thrive, love was born. (It just so happens that the oddities of the human mating system--sex throughout the ovulatory system and long-term pair bonding--are the glue that holds this love together.) In the author's own words: "Our very humanness is the product of accidental design, constrained by evolution." (p. 144)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Combo

    This book had some interesting insights and anecdotes. However, overall it was unfocused and of wildly varying rigor. For example, molecular genetics is discussed at a level of detail that would be more appropriate for the primary literature, not in a book intended to make a topic accessible for a general audience. At other times topics are discussed superficially; for example, the chapter on religion reflects the author's personal biases and presents little more than anecdotes illustrating the This book had some interesting insights and anecdotes. However, overall it was unfocused and of wildly varying rigor. For example, molecular genetics is discussed at a level of detail that would be more appropriate for the primary literature, not in a book intended to make a topic accessible for a general audience. At other times topics are discussed superficially; for example, the chapter on religion reflects the author's personal biases and presents little more than anecdotes illustrating the brain's capacity to create fictional stories. Perhaps the most bothersome aspect of this book is its mantra-like repetition of the idea that the brain is imperfect, which manifests in the continuous use of language that borders on derogatory (e.g. the brain is pastiche, slow, ad hoc, inefficient, messy, etc.); this really isn't necessary, especially for readers already familiar with evolution and vestigiality. It only becomes clear at the end of the book that the reason for all this is to build up to the climatic final chapter: a refutal of 'intelligent design'! One wonders what happened to the author's declaration in the prologue that he would assume the reader has "no knowledge, but infinite intelligence".

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lexi Lo

    When reading a book like this, basically non-fiction, science, but written for the masses, I have very distinct criteria. Basically, I want the book to be engaging, fascinating, even fun. I want the book to make learning about the subject fun. If, while reading the book and upon finishing it, I'm sharing bits and pieces excitedly with my friends, I'm very satisfied. I would give Accidental Mind a B- in this area. The discussion of sleeping and dreaming was most interesting to me, but there are a When reading a book like this, basically non-fiction, science, but written for the masses, I have very distinct criteria. Basically, I want the book to be engaging, fascinating, even fun. I want the book to make learning about the subject fun. If, while reading the book and upon finishing it, I'm sharing bits and pieces excitedly with my friends, I'm very satisfied. I would give Accidental Mind a B- in this area. The discussion of sleeping and dreaming was most interesting to me, but there are a lot of great morsels all through the book. In the hands of another writer, I think that the subject matter could shine even more. But overall, I do recommend it. Just be prepared to do a little work and to have a bit of perseverance in areas. If you do, you'll enjoy it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alex Melnick

    Surprisingly well-written book on the biology and evolution of the human brain, for the non-scientific reader. Linden gets just far enough into the actual science to give an idea of what's going on. "The brain is not elegantly designed by any means: it is a cobbled-together mess, which, amazingly, and in spite of its shortcomings, manages to perform a number of very impressive functions." Surprisingly well-written book on the biology and evolution of the human brain, for the non-scientific reader. Linden gets just far enough into the actual science to give an idea of what's going on. "The brain is not elegantly designed by any means: it is a cobbled-together mess, which, amazingly, and in spite of its shortcomings, manages to perform a number of very impressive functions."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Good, concise introduction to the topic, aimed at the lay reader but with some hard science thrown in. (If the hardcore biochemistry sections go over your head, that's okay -- they're easy to skip without losing the gist of the discussion.) Good, concise introduction to the topic, aimed at the lay reader but with some hard science thrown in. (If the hardcore biochemistry sections go over your head, that's okay -- they're easy to skip without losing the gist of the discussion.)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tonya

    Very interesting book for mild Psych geeks like myself! Linden makes even the most technical aspects of brain function really easy to understand without sounding totally dumbed-down. Who knew evolutionary biology could be so interesting?!?!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alethea

    Unfortunately, another evolutionary biology book that isn’t nearly as cool as it thinks it is. Not un-interesteing, but striking an odd and uneven balance between generalities and specifics, and the author’s witty interjections aren’t nearly as witty as he seems to think.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    Very enjoyable book about the human brain.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Stanislas Rusinsky

    great book, clear and enjoyable narrative style

  19. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    First Impression: I picked this up in an attempt to learn about the brain from a different perspective other than the simple 'this is the brain' outline. DJL sets out to show us that the brain is not a beautifully crafted machine but more of a freak of nature and evolution. DJL certainly achieves this in 'The Accidental Mind'. There are very different levels of intensity involved in this piece though, I found that the subject matter depth fluctuated frequently and left me a little disorientated. First Impression: I picked this up in an attempt to learn about the brain from a different perspective other than the simple 'this is the brain' outline. DJL sets out to show us that the brain is not a beautifully crafted machine but more of a freak of nature and evolution. DJL certainly achieves this in 'The Accidental Mind'. There are very different levels of intensity involved in this piece though, I found that the subject matter depth fluctuated frequently and left me a little disorientated...but if you like biological depth then you will love this...if you want more of a psychologically heavy book on the brain then look elsewhere...(Sam Kean has some awesome books...just saying...). Summary Of The Book: David J. Linden uses The Accidental Mind to inform us that our brains are not expertly crafted to meet our needs as human beings, in fact they were put together haphazardly over the course of our evolution to help us survive as a species. In The Accidental Mind we get the answers to some of the bigger questions of how our brains function. Do we only use a portion of our brains? What is behind our social drive like sex and aggression? What about our brains make us so clever? What enables language? Or understand motivations? It is questions like this that fuels David J. Lindens passion about the brain. Here we learn about all aspects of the brain from neurotransmitters to memory and the plasticity of the brain. It differs from other brain books in the form of perspective. David J. Linden wants people to know that when it comes to the development of the brain during evolution, functionality at the time was more important than overall design. DJL takes the reader on a journey through the brain. We get breakdowns and explanations of how the brain actually functions and how it got that way. Along with some fantastic artwork, this is a psychological, social and biological trip through the history, capability and absurdity of our brains. He explains that a lot of our brains functionality was built just to keep on going and not engineered to make us the top species on the planet. If you love science, people and want to understand yourself and others on a biological level then this is the book for you. Come and get to know what makes us tick and the wonderful accidents that give us some of the amazing features and capabilities we enjoy everyday. My Review: To begin with this book is not as accessible as it initially appears to be. It is readable don't get me wrong and DJL explains that he will be getting into the biology of the brain at certain points throughout his book. My issue was that the biological section of this book were very detailed, in depth and far beyond my understanding. Thats my problem you say....? That may be the case but to me this is more of a textbook in a casual books clothing. (If books wore clothes). The author was mid way between formal and informal though when it comes to the science DJL is not to be taken lightly. Now that complaining is out the way for now, lets talk about the book as a whole. I was really excited for this piece as it was a fresh perspective on a topic that has been done to death. In terms of perspective, DJL gets top marks. He is informative, invested and direct when he talks about the brain and its design. DJL wrote this book to explain that instead of a piece of art. the brain is more a kludge (his word not mine) which roughly means something that is inefficient, inelegant, clumsy and hard to maintain. He also praises the brain for working so well despite these facts. In The Accidental Mind the reader is taken on a museum tour of the brain. Working from the Cortex all the way to the centre of the brain via the Thalamus, Hypothalamus, mid brain and the Cerebellum. At first the science was fun, exciting and almost familiar (though I have read quite a few brain books). Some classic stories such as Phineas Gage and H.M pop up and show us fascinating effects the brain can have when pieces are removed. Then we get into the deeper parts and this is where I got lost...DJL goes into the chemical make up of the brain, the chemical functions and how these factors affect everything that makes us who we are. From sexual orientation, sleep patterns, love, memory, religion and our sensory perception. I am not saying that this book is boring or badly written by any means, I just didn't comprehend the denser parts to this tome and I warn others that it may cause some issues..but maybe not. My favourite part to this book were all the illustrations! Such detail and they worked perfectly alongside the text to keep the reader engrossed and included in the science. Based on the premise and the artwork alone this book is at least a 9/10 but with a few other issues floating around I am not so sure. The format of this book is also effective. DJL has separated the book into 9 clear chapters, with the social aspects of the brain explained first with the biology after that. This means that if you find the biology rather heavy then you could move on and just read this as a social/psychological perspective on the imperfect brains we all have in our noggins. Overall this is an effective book, maybe not a entry point to the science of the brain but definitely worth reading if you have scientific passion. For the casual readers out there there are many other books that will give you the points I found within this one but without the heavier parts. Check it out and see for yourself! 7/10 READ + COMMENT here at Always Trust In Books FOLLOW on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads ENJOY everywhere SHARE + HIGH FIVE with everyone!

  20. 5 out of 5

    YHC

    Our human brain is such a mystery that we know less about it than the cosmos. In this book, a bit wider topic than my last book from Linden The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good, it overall explained some basic information about each part of brain represent which function or feeling. On thing caught my attention: The best timing of learning first language for a kid will be before 12 year old. ( Our human brain is such a mystery that we know less about it than the cosmos. In this book, a bit wider topic than my last book from Linden The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good, it overall explained some basic information about each part of brain represent which function or feeling. On thing caught my attention: The best timing of learning first language for a kid will be before 12 year old. (from the data of kids got locked up for long time), if the kid was locked up at 6, released, he still got to learn his first language perfectly without obstacle. -In Ch 6 about love and sex, a bit same content from the compass of pleasure, it's a lot of hormone going on, he explained the hormone injected into embryos would affect the gender to grow toward homosexual. ex. testosterone injected into girl embryo would make her boyish even possibly affect her sexual preference. vice versa for boy. - Ch7 about sleep: REM obstacle could sleepers agitate and move according to his dream. Normally we dream during REM, and the smart mechanism of our brain makes our whole body muscle paralyzed, otherwise we will be all walking, running or jumping around while sleeping/ dreaming. The function/ design of the cycle of REM and non-REM is not sure but during REM our brain is hotter ( like CPU spinning, with our eyes fast moving....so close description), non- REM our brain gets cooler, the cycle of these 2 switching could be a way keep our brain not to hot and not too cold. People try to find out the necessity of human sleeping, we think it offer us inspiration. it helps us to sort out the problem troubles us while we are awake. That is why when you got a problem, you should sleep over it (if you could fall asleep without being tortured too much...hahahaha) I am always interested in how our brain works so how our mind/ consciousness represents each individual. Do we have soul or just purely the combination of chemical reaction. While the Synapse sending the messages, it is the process of electrical synapse then changes to chemical synapse (on the tips), then it changes back to electrical synapse.

  21. 4 out of 5

    J.K. George

    Another book club selection. Wow, what a fortunate situation to belong to a group whose members read so broadly. For some reason, some reviews of this criticized the writing style of Dr. Linden as too casual, too breezy at times. For me, that was a little twist that made the book even more delightful. The author, clearly a leading expert in the field of neuro-biology/science, covers the basic "electrical engineering" connections of the brain, which fascinated me to no end. The brain's ability to Another book club selection. Wow, what a fortunate situation to belong to a group whose members read so broadly. For some reason, some reviews of this criticized the writing style of Dr. Linden as too casual, too breezy at times. For me, that was a little twist that made the book even more delightful. The author, clearly a leading expert in the field of neuro-biology/science, covers the basic "electrical engineering" connections of the brain, which fascinated me to no end. The brain's ability to send little (very little) pulses of voltage from one node (neuron) to another, or many, or not do so, is an amazing system only now being understood to any great extent. Much is yet to be understood. The brain, which must be able to "be born," or in plain words, to make it out through the mother's birth canal w/out killing baby or mother, then grows to another extent, but is pretty much completed, in terms of its basic "nodes," by age five when it is nearly three times its size of at-birth. After that, the maturation process (nature), along the influence of the environment (nurture) combine such the "network" of small connecting fibers (axons) and even smaller add-ons (dendrites) all support a much richer thinking process. One really interesting part to me was the description of the relative speeds of the signals, from really slow to quite speedy. Of course, all of this is trivially slow compared to a real electrical circuit of insulated copper wiring. The book got a little bogged down for me with some of the brain scientific terms, but I suppose they must be included. The illustrations in the book are clear and first rate, and add to understanding. Following the build-out of the electrical network, the book covers fascinating discussions of sensation/emotion, love and sex, sleeping and dreaming, the religious tendency of all cultures, and basically, what contributes to human individuality. All in all, this is a wonderful book. It would add to any one's growth and enjoyment. JG.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Not surprisingly, "The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams and God" didn't quite live up to its title. The book is fun, but the breakthroughs it describes are not that mind-blowing, and, from what this book showed me, neuroscience remains a long ways from even beginning to explain any of the items mentioned in the book's title. In some ways, I thought this book was too close to being the lecture notes of a somewhat zany professor. The claims were too far-reachin Not surprisingly, "The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams and God" didn't quite live up to its title. The book is fun, but the breakthroughs it describes are not that mind-blowing, and, from what this book showed me, neuroscience remains a long ways from even beginning to explain any of the items mentioned in the book's title. In some ways, I thought this book was too close to being the lecture notes of a somewhat zany professor. The claims were too far-reaching, the language too self-congratulatingly irreverant, and the level of scientific detail included too random (some things you'd like to have known weren't there; in other places, you got lots of detail on neurotransmitters &c. without it being clear how the detail helped you understand the concepts any better...) I was also puzzled why he spent the last chapter refuting Intelligent Design. What the hell? Does he really need to rehash that for his audience? Why not throw in a chapter about the flat-earth society while he's at it... Still, there were definitely some amusing examples and anecdotes, and I did learn something... the book also had attitude, which, though annoying at times, did tend to propel the book forward.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Shan

    Interesting, challenging. I listened to the audiobook, which I discovered by looking for the narrator who did the Bobiverse books. There's a lot of information here that would probably be easier to take in if I'd had it in print. Tidbit: who knew the midbrain has a visual center that works but doesn't communicate with the conscious mind? Not me. There's a lot of nitty gritty chemistry and biochemistry and neuroscience in this book that I'd have to reread in print to grasp. The general message com Interesting, challenging. I listened to the audiobook, which I discovered by looking for the narrator who did the Bobiverse books. There's a lot of information here that would probably be easier to take in if I'd had it in print. Tidbit: who knew the midbrain has a visual center that works but doesn't communicate with the conscious mind? Not me. There's a lot of nitty gritty chemistry and biochemistry and neuroscience in this book that I'd have to reread in print to grasp. The general message comes through, though, about the way the brain is kluged (sp?) via evolution, as opposed to having been designed or engineered by some intelligence. There's a secondary message about the need for more brain research, including research related to things like gender and religion which become political because of people's desire to turn a little knowledge into policy (and other people's legitimate fear of those policies). I want to reread some of this, like the part on religion and how the brain's structure/function leads us to create continuity which is linked to the need to create stories - I was driving while listening, and the chapter seemed less detailed than the earlier ones but I might have missed it because of road distractions.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    The thesis of the book was very interesting. Basically, he wants to claim (1) the brain did not evolve over time as a unified system but as a batch of specific systems, which arose at different times to deal with specific problems and (2) the interplay of these systems gives rise to some particular aspects of human consciousness/experience. So, for example we can understand dreaming better if we look at what purpose the dream system in particular might play, and then look at how our the consciou The thesis of the book was very interesting. Basically, he wants to claim (1) the brain did not evolve over time as a unified system but as a batch of specific systems, which arose at different times to deal with specific problems and (2) the interplay of these systems gives rise to some particular aspects of human consciousness/experience. So, for example we can understand dreaming better if we look at what purpose the dream system in particular might play, and then look at how our the conscious part of our mind tries to integrate its feedback. Sadly the author never really could back up his thesis; he quickly fell into retelling recent discoveries in psychology (which were sometimes interesting in their own right) and offering airy speculation. The chapters on love and religion in particular had exactly the same sort of just-so stories that any sociological/psychological account would, with no support whatsoever from evolutionary studies of the brain. I'm giving 3 stars because of the interesting research program that's summed up in the thesis, but I'm still waiting for the book that actually delivers on it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    David

    Most of the first half of this book is discussion of the anatomy and physiology of the brain. The author then flanges in a discussion on behavioral implications. Having taken an upper-division college class on the brain, much of the anatomy/physiology was review for me, but I found some good discussion on topics of nature vs. nurture (genetic, epigenetic, and learned behaviors) and how memory works. Oddly, he follows up the last two chapters with how this all plays into the evolution-creation de Most of the first half of this book is discussion of the anatomy and physiology of the brain. The author then flanges in a discussion on behavioral implications. Having taken an upper-division college class on the brain, much of the anatomy/physiology was review for me, but I found some good discussion on topics of nature vs. nurture (genetic, epigenetic, and learned behaviors) and how memory works. Oddly, he follows up the last two chapters with how this all plays into the evolution-creation debate, i.e., that the brain is an inefficient, inelegant agglomeration of stuff—an adaptation from an earlier design—and not the genius architecture of some omnipotent power. Yes, the brain is an impressive organ, but no one would have intentionally designed it the way it is and these design limitations do present functional problems, shortcomings, and inefficiencies—so this all runs counter to the “intelligent design” theory proposed by religious polemicists.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alison Raman

    I've been interested in learning more about the basics of the brain and finding reputable books to do so. This book was recommended by a bonafide neuroscientist as a simple intro to the brain and I am very happy I read it. It includes basic neuroscience with some actual science included, simplified to reach a broad audience, but not overly simplified. Linden explains the basic mechanisms of chemical electric signalling in the brain as well as the most common neurotransmitters, brain geography, a I've been interested in learning more about the basics of the brain and finding reputable books to do so. This book was recommended by a bonafide neuroscientist as a simple intro to the brain and I am very happy I read it. It includes basic neuroscience with some actual science included, simplified to reach a broad audience, but not overly simplified. Linden explains the basic mechanisms of chemical electric signalling in the brain as well as the most common neurotransmitters, brain geography, and evolutionary biology. After the initial chapters focusing on the science, he presents an interesting, albeit controversial discussion depending on what you believe, on human emotions and beliefs. Thoughtful blend of science, psychology, and philosophy. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the brain. He leaves much left unsaid and yet to be discovered, he doesn't pretend that we have the brain figured out.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    The book is described by the publisher as providing an evolution-based approach to some key mental processes..."*How* brain evolution..." But the level of detail when the science of brain neurochemical processes are discussed is at a much more rigorous and detailed level than any evolutionary processes are discussed. True, there is an evolutionary frame, but that part feels more like a tertiary source than even a secondary source. The last two chapters are interesting, focusing on evolution and i The book is described by the publisher as providing an evolution-based approach to some key mental processes..."*How* brain evolution..." But the level of detail when the science of brain neurochemical processes are discussed is at a much more rigorous and detailed level than any evolutionary processes are discussed. True, there is an evolutionary frame, but that part feels more like a tertiary source than even a secondary source. The last two chapters are interesting, focusing on evolution and intelligent design (at philosophical and social levels as much as biological levels). Nothing genuinely new here, but well written enough with some useful metaphors and ways of framing issues to make it worth my while (as someone who occasionally teaches on those issues). The earlier chapters reminded me of some things I learned long ago and updated a few things.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    The book is based on an interesting premise - that our brains are not actually fine-tuned machines but a shockingly inefficient mess. As our brains evolve, new developments build on and layer over older pieces that we no longer use in the same way. The result is that we're intelligent despite the design of our brain (rather than because of it). Basically, our superior brainpower exists because our neurons outnumber that of any other species. So the research was interesting. And the title is atte The book is based on an interesting premise - that our brains are not actually fine-tuned machines but a shockingly inefficient mess. As our brains evolve, new developments build on and layer over older pieces that we no longer use in the same way. The result is that we're intelligent despite the design of our brain (rather than because of it). Basically, our superior brainpower exists because our neurons outnumber that of any other species. So the research was interesting. And the title is attention-grabbing. But the author's style is not particularly readable and he doesn't do as good of a job as he could of tying together the pieces presented.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Vicky

    This book takes me much longer to read than I'd expected. Some parts of it are pure anatomy of the brain, its structure and the way the information processed. The chapter on Love and Sex is very entertaining. We really have some differences in male and female brain structures. The chapter on Sleeping and Dreaming uncovers the secret of dreams and at the end there is a part of Religion and the working of the brain. I am given myself a little more time to finish it. I finished it but with a lot of This book takes me much longer to read than I'd expected. Some parts of it are pure anatomy of the brain, its structure and the way the information processed. The chapter on Love and Sex is very entertaining. We really have some differences in male and female brain structures. The chapter on Sleeping and Dreaming uncovers the secret of dreams and at the end there is a part of Religion and the working of the brain. I am given myself a little more time to finish it. I finished it but with a lot of effort. There were a lot of very important discussions in the last chapter on the tension between the evolutionary biology and American political and religious climate

  30. 4 out of 5

    Curtis

    I dove into this book expecting more than it had to offer. The first portion of the book is very technical and rushed. It lacks the detail that would have been necessary to have the science make more sense to say somebody like me who doesn't have an in depth background in the workings of the human brain. The later half of the book is better once examples and studies come into play, but it wasn't mind blowingly great - as I wanted it to be. I like and agree with a lot of the points that Linden is I dove into this book expecting more than it had to offer. The first portion of the book is very technical and rushed. It lacks the detail that would have been necessary to have the science make more sense to say somebody like me who doesn't have an in depth background in the workings of the human brain. The later half of the book is better once examples and studies come into play, but it wasn't mind blowingly great - as I wanted it to be. I like and agree with a lot of the points that Linden is trying to make but I only wish he could have crafted this book a bit better and made his case in a clear and more convincing fashion.

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