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How the Mind Works

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In this extraordinary bestseller, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading cognitive scientists, does for the rest of the mind what he did for language in his 1994 book, The Language Instinct. He explains what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life. And he does it with the wi In this extraordinary bestseller, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading cognitive scientists, does for the rest of the mind what he did for language in his 1994 book, The Language Instinct. He explains what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life. And he does it with the wit that prompted Mark Ridley to write in the New York Times Book Review, "No other science writer makes me laugh so much. . . . [Pinker] deserves the superlatives that are lavished on him."  The arguments in the book are as bold as its title. Pinker rehabilitates some unfashionable ideas, such as that the mind is a computer and that human nature was shaped by natural selection, and challenges fashionable ones, such as that passionate emotions are irrational, that parents socialize their children, and that nature is good and modern society corrupting. Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize A New York Times Notable Book of the Year and Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1997 Featured in Time magazine, the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Nature, Science, Lingua Franca, and Science Times Front-page reviews in the Washington Post Book World, the Boston Globe Book Section, and the San Diego Union Book Review


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In this extraordinary bestseller, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading cognitive scientists, does for the rest of the mind what he did for language in his 1994 book, The Language Instinct. He explains what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life. And he does it with the wi In this extraordinary bestseller, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading cognitive scientists, does for the rest of the mind what he did for language in his 1994 book, The Language Instinct. He explains what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life. And he does it with the wit that prompted Mark Ridley to write in the New York Times Book Review, "No other science writer makes me laugh so much. . . . [Pinker] deserves the superlatives that are lavished on him."  The arguments in the book are as bold as its title. Pinker rehabilitates some unfashionable ideas, such as that the mind is a computer and that human nature was shaped by natural selection, and challenges fashionable ones, such as that passionate emotions are irrational, that parents socialize their children, and that nature is good and modern society corrupting. Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize A New York Times Notable Book of the Year and Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1997 Featured in Time magazine, the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Nature, Science, Lingua Franca, and Science Times Front-page reviews in the Washington Post Book World, the Boston Globe Book Section, and the San Diego Union Book Review

30 review for How the Mind Works

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kalliope

    This morning while swimming I thought of this book. And I thought also of a conversation I had recently with a friend. We were talking about human consciousness. Swimming is a perfect thing to do when thinking about consciousness. While sliding along the water we are deprived of many things, in particular of the full powers of our senses. There is very little to hear; smellandtaste are also kept at bay; what we can look at is reduced to a wall and a straight line on the floor of the pool; and the This morning while swimming I thought of this book. And I thought also of a conversation I had recently with a friend. We were talking about human consciousness. Swimming is a perfect thing to do when thinking about consciousness. While sliding along the water we are deprived of many things, in particular of the full powers of our senses. There is very little to hear; smellandtaste are also kept at bay; what we can look at is reduced to a wall and a straight line on the floor of the pool; and the pleasant and refreshing water assuages our touch. So, even if we stop being ourselves since we are not in our natural medium, we can however only be ourselves. Consciousness runs galore. I actually read this book a while ago, and I did so also some time after I interrupted my studies in neurobiology. I had to stop because of personal reasons. But I remember two things clearly about this book. The first is that It was an excellent summary of what was known about the brain when the book was published, and which I had been studying in more detailed textbooks. Alas, I have not kept with further advances, but my guess is that it is still a very relevant read today. The study is very well structured as a survey of the various considerations on how the mind works, and it is written in a very engaging style. It is also engaging because it addresses our immediate and commonsensical concerns about how our mind works. Why we forget, how do we recognize faces, what falling in love may entail, what it is to laugh.. etc. The best part was the chapter on vision, may be because to me that is one of the most magical powers of our brain. How it can process what our light detecting organs perceive, and create vision in its rear part is a phenomenon that defies our senses. Pinker does not deal with language in this book because he devoted another book, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Languagewhich I have not read yet. He designed them to complement each other. The second thing I remember is the conclusion. After examining scientifically the various abilities of the brain, Pinker finally gets to the idea of Consciousness, the most perplexing aspect of the brain. But then he gives up and admits that our human capacities are unable to understand how consciousness has come to be, nor what it is. He proposes that probably only an entity with higher abilities than those of our brain would be able to look down upon human Consciousness and understand what it is (does he mean a god, or a machine, or martians?). Of course, so far he is completely right. No one has, as yet, been able to explain Consciousness satisfactorily, and it has been approached from a myriad of fields. Is Consciousness created or has it evolved?. Is it only in our bodies, and therefore mortal, or can it transmigrate?. What is it anyway? So, the missing star is not because of what Pinker has written in this book but for its title. He does not really explain, fully, what he promises: how our mind works. In any case, I am going swimming tomorrow again, and my Consciousness is delighted with the idea, even if it does not know what it-self is.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mikael Lind

    The book does not lack good qualities, but I generally dislike the technique of argumentation that is too often characterized by poor proof backed by a certain arrogance towards alternative explanations. The chapter on the sexes is particularly shoddily presented. The "proof" that Pinker refers to when trying to back his claims that (simply put) evolution and innateness alone explain the differences between the sexes when it comes to attitudes to sex (the male hunter/gatherer has logically a gre The book does not lack good qualities, but I generally dislike the technique of argumentation that is too often characterized by poor proof backed by a certain arrogance towards alternative explanations. The chapter on the sexes is particularly shoddily presented. The "proof" that Pinker refers to when trying to back his claims that (simply put) evolution and innateness alone explain the differences between the sexes when it comes to attitudes to sex (the male hunter/gatherer has logically a greater chance of spreading his genes since he doesn't have to carry the baby for nine months, and so on) is based on polls filled out by university students. That these students are also caught up in a social reality doesn't seem to have crossed Pinker's mind. Good scholars know where to draw the boundaries between science and speculation. Chomsky has said that one can learn more about human nature from reading a novel than from scientific psychology. In other words, he knows that his scientific field is limited to a certain aspect of human nature and language, and thus doesn't try to explain more than can be deducted by reasoning from the facts presented. (One can have opinions as to how successful Chomskyan linguistic science actually is, but that's another matter.) Certainly, Pinker is allowed to speculate, as is any scientist. The problem is that Pinker's speculations are sometimes presented as truths. Therefore, this book does, despite some interesting facts being presented in it, leave me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I started this, listened to 3.5 hours of the audiobook’s total of 26 and simply couldn’t imagine continuing. The first chapter (2.5 hours), which the author calls an “opening brief”, can in simple terms be seen as an introduction. This introduction was not concise; it was rambling and consisted of mundane generalizations. It did not clarify how the book would be organized nor in precise terms what the author wished to show. Nothing enticed me to continue. To better understand the field of cognit I started this, listened to 3.5 hours of the audiobook’s total of 26 and simply couldn’t imagine continuing. The first chapter (2.5 hours), which the author calls an “opening brief”, can in simple terms be seen as an introduction. This introduction was not concise; it was rambling and consisted of mundane generalizations. It did not clarify how the book would be organized nor in precise terms what the author wished to show. Nothing enticed me to continue. To better understand the field of cognitive science I am looking for a book based on solid scientific backing, not one based on speculation. I want at least a modicum of solid proof for what is being claimed, and I found not one smidgeon of that here. There was an excessive amount of criticism of other scientists’ views while at the same time the author’s own views were not made clear. I disliked the manner in which the author gave an enormous number of examples which supposedly were meant to prove the generalizations made. Many examples proved nothing. They referred to movie figures, characters in fiction, objects we use in our daily life and further generalizations about human behavior. The list of examples drowned out the statement that was to be proven. Even in the first introductory chapter there were statements made the validity of which can be debated. We are told that humans today no longer worry about robots / computer programs being made that function better than man. That is not true! In the news recently was a debate about the inequitable use of artificial intelligence programs. So I finished the unwieldy, long-winded, empty first introductory chapter and moved on to the second. Before quitting the book I wanted to check if perhaps the style of writing altered. It did not. The narration by Mel Foster started off too fast, but I got used to it. At one point I set the speed down to 75%, and that was too slow! Sentences become distorted. In a book such as this a listener needs time to consider what is being said so they can themselves evaluate what they are being told. The rambling, chatty writing style, the multitude of generalizations and the lack of both conclusive evidence and scientific backing are not what I am looking for. If I do not want to read a book, this says clearly that I did not like that which I read. I am giving this one star.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is a truly comprehensive treatment of the human mind. Pinker delves deeply into the reasons why the mind has evolved to make decisions in the way it does. There is very little discussion about the biology of the brain; the book points out that a good understanding of the origins of human behavior requires descriptions at a higher level--at the level of the mind, and how it evolved through natural selection. Pinker shows how natural selection has worked its way into every nook and cranny of This is a truly comprehensive treatment of the human mind. Pinker delves deeply into the reasons why the mind has evolved to make decisions in the way it does. There is very little discussion about the biology of the brain; the book points out that a good understanding of the origins of human behavior requires descriptions at a higher level--at the level of the mind, and how it evolved through natural selection. Pinker shows how natural selection has worked its way into every nook and cranny of the mind ... absolutely fascinating. Every chapter goes into great detail about how our belief system developed, our vision, our reasoning abilities, our family structures, and our emotions. Pinker describes how our minds are similar to computers and neural networks, and how they are different. I've read other books by Pinker, and they are all great. Highly recommended to every human with a mind!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

    I think this a great way of addressing a widespread misunderstanding about genetics, biological evolution and human thought & behavior. Slight background story: I was having a discussion with a guy on goodreads.com within his comments on his review of Why I Am Not A Muslim and eventually it came to this: Myself: "It’s a categorical mistake to think this about biological evolution. To put it bluntly: our genes are selfish, but we are not (not necessarily, unconditionally so at least)." Him: "One las I think this a great way of addressing a widespread misunderstanding about genetics, biological evolution and human thought & behavior. Slight background story: I was having a discussion with a guy on goodreads.com within his comments on his review of Why I Am Not A Muslim and eventually it came to this: Myself: "It’s a categorical mistake to think this about biological evolution. To put it bluntly: our genes are selfish, but we are not (not necessarily, unconditionally so at least)." Him: "One last question, so how are we different than our genes?" And my reply and the whole point of this post: This may sound mean, but it’s simple. You are not a gene, nor am I. We’re animals, unique and beautiful and ugly and all qualities in between, both as a species and as individuals. Here’s an explanation though: "But almost everyone misunderstands this theory. Contrary to popular belief, the gene-centered theory of evolution does not imply that the point of all human striving is to spread our genes. With the exception of the fertility doctor who artificially inseminated patients with his own semen, the donor to the sperm bank for Nobel Prize winners, and other kooks, no human being (or animal) strives to spread his or her genes. Dawkins explained the theory in a book called The Selfish Gene, and the metaphor was chosen carefully. People don’t selfishly spread their genes, genes selfishly spread themselves. They do it by the way they build our brains. By making us enjoy life, health, sex, friends, and children, the gene buys a lottery ticket for representation in the next generation, with odds that were favorable in the environment in which we evolved. Our goals are subgoals of the ultimate goal of the genes, replicating themselves. But the two are different. As far as we are concerned, our goals, conscious or unconscious, are not about genes at all, but about health and lovers and children and friends." That seems to be enough to get the point across, but I think this is such a good point that I’ll type the next paragraph up as well: "The confusion between our goals and genes’ goals has spawned one muddle after another. A reviewer of a book about the evolution of sexuality protests that human adultery, unlike the animal equivalent, cannot be a strategy to spread genes because adulteres take steps to prevent pregancy. But whose strategy are we talking about? Sexual desire is not people’s strategy to progagate their genes. It’s people’s strategy to attain the pleasures of sex, and the pleasures of sex are the genes strategy to propagate themselves. If the genes don’t get propagated, it’s because we are smarter than they are. A book on the emotional life of animals complains that if altruism according to biologists is just helping kin or exchanging favors, both of which serve the interests of one’s genes, it would not really be altruism after all, but some kind of hypocrisy. This too is a mix up. Just as blueprints don’t necessarily specify blue buildings, selfish genes don’t necessarily specify selfish organisms. As we shall see, sometimes the most selfish thing a gene can do is build a selfless brain. Genes are a play with in a play, not the interior monologue of the players." -Steven Pinker, How The Mind Works, pp. 43-44 Also, for anyone interested in listening to the audiobook version: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list... The reader sounds like one of those prototypical 1950's or 60's educational film narrators. It works pretty well.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Josh Hamacher

    I finally finished this book. It took me far longer than I care to admit to do so. On at least one occasion I lost interest and put it down for several weeks before coming back to it. I have a hard time putting my finger on exactly why this was the case. It's not that it's bad - in fact, parts of it are absolutely fascinating. It's certainly not the writing; Pinker is quite good (despite a tendency to repeat himself frequently). I think it boiled down to two things for me, with both of them being I finally finished this book. It took me far longer than I care to admit to do so. On at least one occasion I lost interest and put it down for several weeks before coming back to it. I have a hard time putting my finger on exactly why this was the case. It's not that it's bad - in fact, parts of it are absolutely fascinating. It's certainly not the writing; Pinker is quite good (despite a tendency to repeat himself frequently). I think it boiled down to two things for me, with both of them being closely related (and maybe even the same): 1. Organization. This is a 565-page book with only eight chapters. Each chapter is almost a short book on its own, divided into many sections. While a common theme ties together each chapter the sections are often quite divergent. It was hard to maintain momentum when moving from one section to another that seemed only tangentially related. 2. Breadth. The subject is the human mind, providing practically infinite material. I think for anyone there would be parts that are interesting and parts that aren't. Having said that, I still recommend this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amirography

    This book was an amazing read! I cannot get around the fact that it was written by one person, let alone one person with a lot of other books on the same topic, and yet more provocative each time. I loved the detailed and comprehensive outlook on each subject matter. It is not a textbook, It is a long essay that gives you a rational, up-to-date, coherent, general yet accurate, A frame for thinking about mind, cognition, and emotions, and also changes our day-to-day worldview about people in genera This book was an amazing read! I cannot get around the fact that it was written by one person, let alone one person with a lot of other books on the same topic, and yet more provocative each time. I loved the detailed and comprehensive outlook on each subject matter. It is not a textbook, It is a long essay that gives you a rational, up-to-date, coherent, general yet accurate, A frame for thinking about mind, cognition, and emotions, and also changes our day-to-day worldview about people in general." The only complaint I have is that this book could have used more hierarchical structure.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This is a very readable and influential synthesis of the cognitive science view of the mind with that of evolutionary psychology. The overall thrust is that the mind is a neural computer closely governed by feelings and desires that were shaped by natural selection for their adaptive value in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of our ancestors. The book is lively, with lots of down to earth examples. He holds your hand when wading through many technical subjects, faces disputes in a non-dogmatic way, This is a very readable and influential synthesis of the cognitive science view of the mind with that of evolutionary psychology. The overall thrust is that the mind is a neural computer closely governed by feelings and desires that were shaped by natural selection for their adaptive value in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of our ancestors. The book is lively, with lots of down to earth examples. He holds your hand when wading through many technical subjects, faces disputes in a non-dogmatic way, and addresses political spins on scientific matters in a forthright way. The heft and scope of the volume is daunting. Yet it is written to be accessible to the general reader as well as scholars. As the emphasis is on synthesis and not a unifying novel theory of mind dependent on the cohesion of all its parts, I feel that the average reader could benefit from reading only the chapters of interest to them. There are sections on visual perception, neural network modeling, passionate emotions, social behaviors, and cultural innovations. As with Wilson’s “Sociobiology”, many readers will be interested in what he has to say about biological roots of human violence, sexual behavior, family values, and the arts. This includes accounts of adaptive values for lying, self delusion, war, mass murder, rape, pornography, parent-child and sibling conflict, altruism, love, marriage, and friendship. Particularly fascinating is his coverage of the cross-cultural phenomenon of people going “amok” and tie-in with the “doomsday machine” theory of passionate emotions, the adaptive value of which lies in their service as “guarantors of threats and promises”. He makes a good argument that thinking conforms to a kind of language, or mentalese, with categorical, syntactical, and generative properties aligned with Chomsky’s conceptions. He places a big emphasis on the role of beliefs and desires in his perspective on the core properties of human intellect. He doesn’t hold out much hope in the explanatory potential of neuroscience, considering models at that level an inadequate reductionism: "Even if neuroscientists someday decode the entire wiring diagram of the brain, human behavior makes the most sense when it was explained in terms of beliefs and desires, not in terms of volts and grams. Physics provides no insight into the machinations of a crafty lawyer, and even fails to enlighten us about many simpler acts of living things." I agree that explanations at the level physics will not help understand the mind, but I feel hopeful that neuroscience can make much progress in merging biological and psychological models. As this book was written in 2007, it misses the neurological synthesis of the computational and emotional aspects of the mind achieved by Damasio in his 2009 book and the decade of great ferment in cognitive neuroscience due to studies using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. No matter how much it looks like he is on the pathway to biological determinism for so many “bad” human behaviors, he takes great pains to dissociate our inherited mental equipment from our systems of moral responsibility and vision of equal rights: "To understand is not to forgive". For example, understanding a human tendency to revile other cultures does not excuse the Holocaust. Biological determinism for even liberal values can be misguided, e.g. “The argument against persecuting gay people must be made not in terms of the gay gene or the gay brain but in terms of people’s right to engage in private consensual acts without discrimination or harassment.” In the case of the male tendency to mate with any women they can, even to the point of rape, rather than agreeing with one of his students that the key conclusion is that “Men are slime!”, he feels they still should be swayed by morality: “If … men are especially tempted to commit certain crimes against women, the implication is that deterrents should be surer and more severe, not that the crimes are somehow less odious.” Pinker further argues that environmental determinism is just as unfruitful. He feels feminists’ stance against discrimination and oppression of women can do without the position that their origin lies in brainwashing of children and youth by media, pornography, and child rearing and educational practices. A refreshing aspect of Pinker’s book is that he makes very little claim to explaining free will and sentience. He also places a lot of advanced cultural accomplishments of humans, such as art, humor, and religion in a category of having no likely evolutionary adaptive value. He suspects that these capacities are “along for the ride” and that “human brains evolved by one set of laws, those of natural selection and genetics, and now interact with one another according to another set of laws, those of cognitive and social psychology, human ecology, and history”.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brad Acker

    This book frequently gets rave reviews. Whenever i sit down to read Pinker, i wish i were drinking again. Here is an example of a typical quotation from this book that i could only follow if i were drunk: "The cobalt 60 nucleus is said to spin counterclockwise if you look down on its north pole, but that description by itself is circular because 'north pole' is simply what we call the end of the axis from which a rotation looks counterclockwise." This is in the middle of a discussion, in which h This book frequently gets rave reviews. Whenever i sit down to read Pinker, i wish i were drinking again. Here is an example of a typical quotation from this book that i could only follow if i were drunk: "The cobalt 60 nucleus is said to spin counterclockwise if you look down on its north pole, but that description by itself is circular because 'north pole' is simply what we call the end of the axis from which a rotation looks counterclockwise." This is in the middle of a discussion, in which he puts down Richard Feynman, and concludes "God is not ambidextrous after all." I feel that Pinker presents his material in an annoyingly obtuse way and may be drinking when he writes. LOL

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lewis Weinstein

    impenetrable, repetitive, useless ... did I say I was disappointed?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Erwin

    Very interesting. 20-30 years from now, I think most people will understand that there's nothing "magical" about the "mind", the "soul", religion, art, men, women, or any of the other sacred cows that continue to hold back humans from understanding themselves. How the Mind Works was published back in 1997, but I didn't encounter any of the points that Pinker made in High School or Collage, up until 2000. Pinker focuses on a "computational theory of mind", saying that the mind is a complex paralle Very interesting. 20-30 years from now, I think most people will understand that there's nothing "magical" about the "mind", the "soul", religion, art, men, women, or any of the other sacred cows that continue to hold back humans from understanding themselves. How the Mind Works was published back in 1997, but I didn't encounter any of the points that Pinker made in High School or Collage, up until 2000. Pinker focuses on a "computational theory of mind", saying that the mind is a complex parallel information processing system. Of course Pinker doesn't have the "final word" on How the Mind Works, but he provides more evidence, more insight, and more rationality than the "romantics" and their leaders Freud Sigmund 1856-1939 Sigmund and Carl Jung. Pinker continues on many of the themes here in The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Unfortunately for Americans, Political Correctness seems to be a barrier to accurately seeing human nature, as human nature necessarily is different for different groups of people, particularly for men and women. My favorite anecdote is about the "Coolidge effect": … an old joke about Calvin Coolidge when he was President … The President and Mrs. Coolidge were being shown [separately] around an experimental government farm. When [Mrs. Coolidge] came to the chicken yard she noticed that a rooster was mating very frequently. She asked the attendant how often that happened and was told, “Dozens of times each day.” Mrs. Coolidge said, “Tell that to the President when he comes by.” Upon being told, President asked, “Same hen every time?” The reply was, “Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time.” President: “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.” Pinker explains the mind by "reverse-engineering" it—figuring out what natural selection designed it to accomplish in the environment in which we evolved. The mind, he writes, is a system of "organs of computation" that allowed our ancestors to understand and outsmart objects, animals, plants, and each other. How the Mind Works explains many of the imponderables of everyday life. Why does a face look more attractive with makeup? How do "Magic-Eye" 3-D stereograms work? Why do we feel that a run of heads makes the coin more likely to land tails? Why is the thought of eating worms disgusting? Why do men challenge each other to duels and murder their ex-wives? Why are children bratty? Why do fools fall in love? Why are we soothed by paintings and music? And why do puzzles like the self, free will, and consciousness leave us dizzy? This arguments in the book are as bold as its title. Pinker rehabilitates unfashionable ideas, such as that the mind is a computer and that human nature was shaped by natural selection. And he challenges fashionable ones, such as that passionate emotions are irrational, that parents socialize their children, that creativity springs from the unconscious, that nature is good and modern society corrupting, and that art and religion are expressions of our higher spiritual yearnings.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Farha Crystal

    What parts of the brain create awareness? Are we really aware of ourselves? Why has the mind evolved to make decisions in the way it does? why do we really laugh at a joke? Why does a face look more attractive with makeup? Why does our brain drive us to enjoy sex? Why is the thought of eating worms disgusting? Why do paintings and music alleviate the hunger and thurst of mind? Why did we invent religion, music and art? How did these items adapt in the long run if it serves to nothing from an evo What parts of the brain create awareness? Are we really aware of ourselves? Why has the mind evolved to make decisions in the way it does? why do we really laugh at a joke? Why does a face look more attractive with makeup? Why does our brain drive us to enjoy sex? Why is the thought of eating worms disgusting? Why do paintings and music alleviate the hunger and thurst of mind? Why did we invent religion, music and art? How did these items adapt in the long run if it serves to nothing from an evolutionary perspective? ... ... ... The book covers the computational theory of mind (mind is the computational product of the brain) and evolutionary psychology. There is a very little discussion about the biology of the brain but it still ponders over human natures to explain them from the biological adaptations and the by-product of evolution perspectives. The book was published over 20 years ago but Pinker is an engaging writer. So, at least the connecting experience with a first-rate mind might not be frustrating :)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    Let's be honest. I will probably never pick up this book to finish it. I began reading this because of my book club. But, I didn't think I would finish it to begin with, and due to many circumstances, the book club will not be meeting for this book. So, I have decided to put it down as one of those books I'll never finish. I didn't like most of what I read, not due to the subject/topic, but due to the way Pinker writes. His droning on on tangents and his shoving his philosophy, which is oh so rig Let's be honest. I will probably never pick up this book to finish it. I began reading this because of my book club. But, I didn't think I would finish it to begin with, and due to many circumstances, the book club will not be meeting for this book. So, I have decided to put it down as one of those books I'll never finish. I didn't like most of what I read, not due to the subject/topic, but due to the way Pinker writes. His droning on on tangents and his shoving his philosophy, which is oh so right BTW [she said dripping with sarcasm:] was too much for me. I had a hard time staying interested, which was a shame, because most sections began with promise. But Pinker would, more often than not, find a way to make the topic at hand induce heavy eyelids (or eye rolling, depending). I wanted this book to be good and thought it would be interesting, being a Bachelor of Psychology graduate myself, but no such luck. Maybe in many years, when I have more time on my hands, or less sense, I will try picking this book up again.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rita T

    I read all bio-determinist arguments, no matter how sound their science, as a mandate to return to the 50's - those halcyon days when men schnoockered their secretaries while women bought canned foods and tended the young. Nonetheless, I loved this book. The early chapters, especially on the computational theory of mind, are incredible. Pinker is just unbelievably detailed and the linguistic spin he brings to the discussion of cognitive development is a great dimension. The later chapters are mo I read all bio-determinist arguments, no matter how sound their science, as a mandate to return to the 50's - those halcyon days when men schnoockered their secretaries while women bought canned foods and tended the young. Nonetheless, I loved this book. The early chapters, especially on the computational theory of mind, are incredible. Pinker is just unbelievably detailed and the linguistic spin he brings to the discussion of cognitive development is a great dimension. The later chapters are more of the men-like-variety-women-like-providers stuff that one usually hears but nuanced and entertaining nonetheless. I enjoyed this book a lot.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Whyte

    "http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1289334.html[return][return]I was really disappointed by this book. Pinker starts out by claiming that he will explain the origins of human emotions, aesthetics, and belief in the context of the latest findings of evolutionary and psychological research. He does not really succeed in doing so. It is a succession of moderately interesting research reports, linked together with a glue of neat one-liners (mostly other people's), but without really coming to a killer c "http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1289334.html[return][return]I was really disappointed by this book. Pinker starts out by claiming that he will explain the origins of human emotions, aesthetics, and belief in the context of the latest findings of evolutionary and psychological research. He does not really succeed in doing so. It is a succession of moderately interesting research reports, linked together with a glue of neat one-liners (mostly other people's), but without really coming to a killer conclusion and indeed occasionally resorting to sheer polemic (eg on gender). The section on neural networks is particularly dull, especially as Pinker admits that living brains don't actually function that way. [return][return]I found precisely two points of interest in the book, both pretty tangential to the main thrust of the argument. First, of interest only to those who also know her, is that an old family friend is mentioned in passing on the development of children's minds. Second, of more general interest, is the observation that all cultures tend to design ornamental gardens with unconscious reference to the primeval African savannah - lawns and flowerbeds interrupted by carefully placed features. Rather a pleasing thought! This observation is not Pinker's own, but he does give pretty full citations for it which the interested reader can follow up.[return][return]I hear that Pinker's other books are better, so shall continue to look out for them though without particular enthusiasm."

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Stein

    Pinker's treatise on the naturalist mind looks like a science textbook, but the combination of computer programming and physiology laid on top of sociological metaphors and applicable understandings makes it a fantastic read. His ability to diffuse archaic arguments about the nature of the mind without appearing argumentative is what defines him as a great academic, and his ability to explain things to individuals with only a high school education (like me) is what defines him as a great writer. Pinker's treatise on the naturalist mind looks like a science textbook, but the combination of computer programming and physiology laid on top of sociological metaphors and applicable understandings makes it a fantastic read. His ability to diffuse archaic arguments about the nature of the mind without appearing argumentative is what defines him as a great academic, and his ability to explain things to individuals with only a high school education (like me) is what defines him as a great writer. The assaults on the superstitions of Freud are particularly interesting, and his breaking down of the purely linguistic issue of Searle's "Chinese Box" problem leads you to come to the same conclusion that Pinker does as Pinker is unfolding the problem. Anyone who likes to study the nature of mind, who enjoys reading authors ranging from Dennett to Proust will like this book, and those who like to discuss the topics will find themselves better informed and far more capable of explaining things with Pinker's metaphors.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gendou

    This book covers the computational theory of mind and evolutionary psychology. The former asserts that the mind is the computational product of the brain. The later examines how many aspects of human nature can be explained as biological adaptations. Both are crucial to understanding how the mind works. Both are explained in exquisite depth (read: this is a very long book). Pinker gets one thing wrong at the end when he asserts what's known as the the "hard problem of consciousness" which his ref This book covers the computational theory of mind and evolutionary psychology. The former asserts that the mind is the computational product of the brain. The later examines how many aspects of human nature can be explained as biological adaptations. Both are crucial to understanding how the mind works. Both are explained in exquisite depth (read: this is a very long book). Pinker gets one thing wrong at the end when he asserts what's known as the the "hard problem of consciousness" which his refers to as sentience. He also makes a misstatement about free will. "Sentience is not a combination of brain events or computational states." "Free will is not a causal chain of events and states by definition." This is frustrating because I feel like he ran a 3 minute mile but stopped just shy of the finish line! He's wrong on both counts. For more read Freedom Evolves by Daniel Dennett.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Deniz Cem Önduygu

    So many great paragraphs that they make up for a few places where he gets lazy and spells out conventions. As the number of notes I took goes, this book is a winner; in addition to all its original content, it has the best summaries I've encountered of many complex ideas/theories. He is remarkably devastating against standard social sciences and postmodernist thinking. The book may get a little monotone in the technical chapters, but it's a must-read for anyone interested in psychology, evolutio So many great paragraphs that they make up for a few places where he gets lazy and spells out conventions. As the number of notes I took goes, this book is a winner; in addition to all its original content, it has the best summaries I've encountered of many complex ideas/theories. He is remarkably devastating against standard social sciences and postmodernist thinking. The book may get a little monotone in the technical chapters, but it's a must-read for anyone interested in psychology, evolution, nature-nurture debates, or mundane questions like "Why do men and women want different things?". (No, the differences are not "socially constructed".) I just wish he was more open to the meme theory; then he could be perfect.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nebuchadnezzar

    The title of the book should have read "How the Mind Works (According to Steven Pinker)." The picture he paints is not wrong, per se, but vastly overestimates the power of current cognitive modeling. There is quite a bit of good material here reviewing computational theory of mind, modularity, evolutionary psychology, and related material in cognitive science written in Pinker's usual conversational style. However, I have to hop off the bandwagon at the halfway point on this one. Sure, computatio The title of the book should have read "How the Mind Works (According to Steven Pinker)." The picture he paints is not wrong, per se, but vastly overestimates the power of current cognitive modeling. There is quite a bit of good material here reviewing computational theory of mind, modularity, evolutionary psychology, and related material in cognitive science written in Pinker's usual conversational style. However, I have to hop off the bandwagon at the halfway point on this one. Sure, computational theory of mind has produced a lot of fruitful research. The mind is, to some degree, modular. The brain, like all our other organs, is shaped by evolution. My main problem is in his jump from the modularity at "low-level" cognition (e.g., basic sensory input, certain parts of language) posited by Jerry A. Fodor to "massive modularity." There are some functions that are very localized in the brain that fit with modularity, but we would expect the brain to look very different if massive modularity were true. The brain is actually very plastic with many higher-order functions that aren't strictly localized. The same thing goes for his evolutionary explanations. I will happily agree that many cognitive systems and functions are adaptive -- having eyes and a visual system is obviously beneficial! When it comes to more complex social behaviors, we're in far more speculative territory. As an introduction to cognitive science, it does present the material in an accessible way. However, it will be difficult to for the layperson to pick apart where Pinker's description is backed by solid evidence and where it lapses into questionable claims and rank speculation. There's a bit of fluff, too, especially near the end when it begins to cross over into the more overt political rambling characteristic of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Fodor's The Mind Doesn't Work That Way: The Scope and Limits of Computational Psychology (http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Fodo...) makes for a decent corrective, though I have problems with it as well. I'm in total agreement on one point with Fodor, though: When it comes to cognitive science, we're just getting started.

  20. 5 out of 5

    The Laughing Man

    Pinker hits the bull's eye in this book debunking the ill arguments of the nurture front in the nature nurture debate, on his way relentlessly takes down feminism, noble savage theory, blank slate and on the side veganism a bit dealing crushing blows with solid arguments and facts. A must read for those interested in behavioral research and debunking the patchouli scented romantic arguments of the left. Pinker hits the bull's eye in this book debunking the ill arguments of the nurture front in the nature nurture debate, on his way relentlessly takes down feminism, noble savage theory, blank slate and on the side veganism a bit dealing crushing blows with solid arguments and facts. A must read for those interested in behavioral research and debunking the patchouli scented romantic arguments of the left.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cassandra Kay Silva

    Language provides a window into the history of society, but this book also helps show how it has both formed and is a part of our consciousness and our own experience. I think a huge range of people would enjoy this book for many many reasons. Perhaps the only genre that would struggle with it would be possibly the very religious. Otherwise pick it up and have a read you are going to love it!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marcin Milkowski

    This book is way too long, and the last part (about philosophy) is fairly ill-informed. The most surprising thing is that cognitive psychology is limited to perception and the imagery debate; no discussion of memory, very limited discussion of reasoning, not to mention planning or motor planning. For today's standards, it's outdated by David Buss's text on evolutionary psychology. This book is way too long, and the last part (about philosophy) is fairly ill-informed. The most surprising thing is that cognitive psychology is limited to perception and the imagery debate; no discussion of memory, very limited discussion of reasoning, not to mention planning or motor planning. For today's standards, it's outdated by David Buss's text on evolutionary psychology.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steve Granger

    Excellent and comprehensive book as to be expected by the likes of Steven Pinker. Brought me back to my undergraduate days in psych. While any non-fiction science book suffers from the same uptake of advances in any field, Pinker did a great job at pulling together research that mostly lasts the test of time. Great read for anyone interested in the cross-over between biology and psychology.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Abu Hayat Khan

    there is two contending interpretation exists among academia on Darwinian Evolution: Gradualism vs Punctuated Equilibrium. they strikingly disagree on the question of “how a phenotypic trait evolves”. in gradualism (Richard Dawkins and others), any phenotype must have an Adaptive value (here the definition of "adaptation" is very strict, it means reproductive advantage only) i.e. a trait that increases the chance for more living offspring evolves slowly through selection pressure. on the other h there is two contending interpretation exists among academia on Darwinian Evolution: Gradualism vs Punctuated Equilibrium. they strikingly disagree on the question of “how a phenotypic trait evolves”. in gradualism (Richard Dawkins and others), any phenotype must have an Adaptive value (here the definition of "adaptation" is very strict, it means reproductive advantage only) i.e. a trait that increases the chance for more living offspring evolves slowly through selection pressure. on the other hand, proponent of punctuated equilibrium (Steven J Gould and other) don’t accept the idea of “adaptation”, rather they theorized something called“Exaptation”, which says that a trait may arise through natural selection for one purpose but later organism may find another way to use it which doesn’t give any survival value (i.e. doesn’t provide reproductive advantage). such traits or phenotypes are called evolutionary byproduct. Mr. Gould’s called them “Spandrel”. Spandrels of San Marco are famous for their beautiful art, but originally these spandrels were structural components of the basilica which later turned into artistic masterpieces. Unlike slow Adaptation, Exaptation happens in punctuated manner, i.e. out of sudden in the geological timescale. Epigenetics is considered to be one of the mechanisms for such punctuated evolution (please see, "Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst" by Robert M. Sapolsky). if we consider human mind as a phenotype that comes from an organ called the brain, and if the brain is an evolved organ through natural selection, which interpretation should we take to explain human mind? is mind adaptive? a trait that helps multiplying offspring? Or is mind exaptative, i.e. an evolutionary byproduct? in his influential book "Thinking, Fast and Slow", Daniel Kahneman demonstrated that human mind is by default irrational, rational thinking is a very expensive process hence turned off most of the time. instead, our brain uses shortcuts, know as heuristics or biases to solve any given situation. this line of research and academic findings tipped the view of human mind toward exaptationism. i.e. prominent view is that human mind is an evolutionary byproduct which explains why it is such irrational. in this view, it is considered that human mind was evolved to survive in predator-prey paradigm in which rational thinking would result in predation and death. our concept of art, music, language, etc is simply a byproduct of a formal survival machine called the brain. now enters Steven Pinker. Mr. Pinker argued that mind is an adaptive phenotype. so the only way to understand it is through evolutionary history not by chaos theory or reductionist physical approach. which implies that the irrational throughs are not useless at all. rather our cognition biases and irrationalities are very important to increase the change of our reproductive success. and that is exactly how human mind should work. I consider Steven Pinker and Gerard Diamond as the best two scientific writer of our time. other writers like Yuval Noah Harari, Richard Dawkins etc are popular but not even close to these two giants. in this book, Mr. Pinker destroyed exaptationism, though not without criticism. some of his descriptions just flown over my head, nonetheless, this book turns out to be the most informative book on evolution I've ever read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Teo 2050

    2015.11.18–2015.11.23 Contents Pinker S (1997) (26:09) How the Mind Works Preface 1. Standard Equipment • The Robot Challenge • Reverse-Engineering the Psyche • Psychological Correctness 2. Thinking Machines • The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe • Natural Computation • The Defending Champion • Connectoplasm • Aladdin's Lamp 3. Revenge of the Nerds • Get Smart • Life's Designer • The Blind Programmer • Instinct and Intelligence • The Cognitive Niche • Why Us? • What Now? 4. The Mind's Eye • Deep Eye • Lighti 2015.11.18–2015.11.23 Contents Pinker S (1997) (26:09) How the Mind Works Preface 1. Standard Equipment • The Robot Challenge • Reverse-Engineering the Psyche • Psychological Correctness 2. Thinking Machines • The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe • Natural Computation • The Defending Champion • Connectoplasm • Aladdin's Lamp 3. Revenge of the Nerds • Get Smart • Life's Designer • The Blind Programmer • Instinct and Intelligence • The Cognitive Niche • Why Us? • What Now? 4. The Mind's Eye • Deep Eye • Lighting, Shading, Shaping • Seeing in Two and a Half Dimensions • Frames of Reference • Animal Crackers • Imagine That! 5. Good Ideas • Ecological Intelligence • Little Boxes • Core Curriculum • A Trivium • Eureka! 6. Hotheads • Universal Passion • Feeling Machines • The Suburban Savanna • Food for Thought • The Smell of Fear • The Happiness Treadmill • The Sirens' Song • I and Thou • The Doomsday Machine • Fools for Love • The Society of Feelings • Kidding Ourselves 7. Family Values • Kith and Kin • Parents and Children • Brothers and Sisters • Men and Women • Husbands and Wives • Rivals • Friends and Acquaintances • Allies and Enemies • Humanity 8. The Meaning of Life • Arts and Entertainment • What's So Funny? • The Inquisitive in Pursuit of the Inconceivable 9. Afterword (2009) Notes References Index

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    A very good book, albeit not the quickest read ever. I’ve read a few popular science books and have been disappointed when they seem to rely more on anecdote than science -- ok, fine, what I really mean is I can’t stand Malcolm Gladwell. How the Mind Works certainly feels much more solidly founded in science while still maintaining the how-science-fits-into-real-life perspective of a popular science book. It’s not a perfect book. Given the enormous breadth of the topic that Pinker is attempting to A very good book, albeit not the quickest read ever. I’ve read a few popular science books and have been disappointed when they seem to rely more on anecdote than science -- ok, fine, what I really mean is I can’t stand Malcolm Gladwell. How the Mind Works certainly feels much more solidly founded in science while still maintaining the how-science-fits-into-real-life perspective of a popular science book. It’s not a perfect book. Given the enormous breadth of the topic that Pinker is attempting to cover, it’s forgivable, but still the book does drift occasionally into generalizations that seem more a subjective (though plausible) opinion than convincing fact. Given the great complexity he describes in the lower-level workings of the human brain, I felt surprised at how often he seemed to be over-simplifying higher-level human psychology; at the the same time, of course, I did realize he couldn’t preface every sentence with, “As a generalization that obviously does’t account for all specific details, ...” All in all, it was quite a good, convincing book that felt comfortingly more bound to science than some others I’ve read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    In order to understand ourselves and others in a meaningful and accurate way, we need to be informed on how the human mind works. Steven Pinker lucidly explains what we can know about how the mind works and why it happens to work the way it does. The explanations he presents are supported by fascinating experiments and observations from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, biology and anthropology. Reading this book requires a fair bit of grinding, but I think that some people who persist will In order to understand ourselves and others in a meaningful and accurate way, we need to be informed on how the human mind works. Steven Pinker lucidly explains what we can know about how the mind works and why it happens to work the way it does. The explanations he presents are supported by fascinating experiments and observations from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, biology and anthropology. Reading this book requires a fair bit of grinding, but I think that some people who persist will find it deeply rewarding and satisfying. The paradigm presented in this book is interesting.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Paul Perry

    The best science writers have an understanding of the subject on which they write that is both deep and broad along with the ability to express these ideas in a way which is both clear and connects it with ideas and experiences that resonate with the general reader. Pinker is, along with Brian Greene and Sean Carroll in physics and Steve Jones and Richard Dawkins in biology, amongst the very finest of these.

  29. 5 out of 5

    David

    It's been years since I've read this, so I don't reliably remember all the arguments in Pinker's book. I remember finding it very interesting at the time, but since then, I've become a lot more skeptical about evolutionary psychology. I'm not actually sure that I read the whole thing, considering I can't remember much of it... It's been years since I've read this, so I don't reliably remember all the arguments in Pinker's book. I remember finding it very interesting at the time, but since then, I've become a lot more skeptical about evolutionary psychology. I'm not actually sure that I read the whole thing, considering I can't remember much of it...

  30. 4 out of 5

    T.

    Excellent! Had to stick with it but was really rewarding. Pinker is one of the brightest science writers, on par with Dawkins. I hope to read more books on evolutionary psychology, but for now this the clear leader on that subject.

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