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How the Mind Works
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"Presented with extraordinary lucidity, cogency and panache...Powerful and gripping...To have read [the book] is to have consulted a first draft of the structural plan of the human psyche...a glittering tour de force" - "Spectator". "Why do memories fade? Why do we lose our tempers? Why do fools fall in love? Pinker's objective in this erudite account is to explore the nature and history of the human mind...He explores computations and evolutions, and then considers how the mind lets us "see, think, feel, interact, and pursue higher callings like art, religion and philosophy" - "Sunday Times".

Why do fools fall in love? Why does a man's annual salary, on average, increase $600 with each inch of his height? When a crack dealer guns down a rival, how is he just like Alexander Hamilton, whose face is on the ten-dollar bill? How do optical illusions function as windows on the human soul? Cheerful, cheeky, occasionally outrageous MIT psychologist Steven Pinker answers all of the above and more in his marvelously fun, awesomely informative survey of modern brain science. Pinker argues that Darwin plus canny computer programs are the key to understanding ourselves--but he also throws in apt references to Star Trek, Star Wars, The Far Side, history, literature, W. C. Fields, Mozart, Marilyn Monroe, surrealism, experimental psychology, and Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty and his 888 children. If How the Mind Works were a rock show, tickets would be scalped for $100. This book deserved its spot as Number One on bestseller lists. It belongs on a short shelf alongside such classics as Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, by Daniel C. Dennett, and The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, by Robert Wright. Pinker's startling ideas pop out as dramatically as those hidden pictures in a Magic Eye 3D stereogram poster, which he also explains in brilliantly lucid prose.

Customer Reviews:

  • Pinker is a genius
    With good form, good argument and good humor, Mr. Pinker again has explained the complex facets of the human mind in a way that is clearly understood. Thank you, good sir....more info
  • Same old mistakes.
    ...At the end, however, Pinker writes an authoritative and comprehensive book, that makes many brilliant points, and argues for some plausible evolutionary psychology. I recomend it because it is a classic in the field allready, and a good read. But the computer methaphor is not an easy position to hold with today's modern neuroscience research......more info
  • A treatise on evolutionary psychology
    Steven Pinker, director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT, argues that the mind is a computational computer. He uses Darwin's concept of reverse engineering to show how most of man's mental and emotional traits evolved.

    Pinker also shows how the mind was designed by natural selection to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors faced in their hunter/gatherer existence, which may be why we have such trouble explaining such esoteric concepts as consciousness and sentience.

    Pinker does not have a whole lot of respect for Freud, B.F. Skinner, or the Standard Social Science Model, which views the mind as a blank slate at birth. He disdains a moral approach when discussing natural selection, which gets him in trouble with feminists among other value-laden "isms". Instead, he argues for a "module-packed mind" that "allows both for innate motives that lead to evil acts and for innate motives that can avert them."

    When discussing the computational mind, Pinker spends a lot of time on the eye. He shows how the eye evolved from light sensitive skin tissue, how humans developed stereoscopic vision leading to a bigger brain, how the brain tricks us into believing that matter is solid, and how seeing in color and in three dimensions led to more brain capacity. Pinker even shows us how the "Mind's eye" works. The eye connects to the brain, but the brain also connects to the eye.

    Emotions began with the family and extended to non-family because foragers lived in groups. We love people who carry our genes. Pinker shows how the emotions evolve from the family to non-family relationships using reciprocal altruism. If you grant a favor to another (such as supplying him with meat) and he later returns the favor, you like him. If he cares for you when you are sick with no apparent compensation, you grow to love him. Cheaters inspire other emotions such as anger and resentment and the list grows. Guilt happens when we're cheating and we know it. Sympathy is an emotion for gaining gratitude. Body language ensures that emotions are hard to fake. Most people have scam detectors; you can tell the difference between a real smile and that of a beauty contestant.

    Pinker also discusses bi-products of natural selection such as religion, music, philosophy and art. As mentioned earlier, we are blessed (or cursed) with a forager's brain. "The intellect evolved to crack the defense of things in the natural and social world," not answer such questions as "Why do bad things happen to good people?" We are lucky our stone-age minds do as well as they do when tackling complex scientific problems....more info
  • brilliant
    with simple, familiar language MIT professor Pinker delves into how the mind evolved and how it works. Of special interest to me were the parallells he drew between computer code (logic) and brain tasks. Easy to read (considering the material) and right on as far as factual material goes, 5 stars for me. He could have cut the book down to ~500 pages or so (i struggled through most of the chapter on perception and finally just skipped on) but overall a great book....more info
  • Illuminating information from neuroscience
    Not since Daniel Goleman's, Emotional Intelligence published in 1995, have we been the recipients of meaningful insight into the way the mind and emotions work. If you are interested in neuroscience these books are a must. If you want practical information on how to make the MOST of your mind, emotions and every situation, read Optimal Thinking: How To Be Your Best Self too....more info
  • Disappointing! Pinker did not try hard here.
    I was a psychology and biology major in college and am innately interested in brain research, so Pinker's thesis sounded fascinating. But the book is not; it is boring, and I could not finish it. Pinker wrote this very casually, it is not a rigorous study and does not cover really very much material. Instead, it is more a narrative, a transcript of Pinker thinking out loud. This is one of those occasions I really regretted the high cost of a hardback.

    A friend studied cognitive science (really a subfield of psych, with a lot of computer science mixed in) at MIT, so I passed the book along to him. He later confessed he became bored and put it away. His honesty about my mediocre gift confirmed my suspicions. This is not a good book, although it may entertain some who are new to the field. Even if you are new to psych, however, there are much better places to start....more info

  • Pretentious and ultimately useless
    There's no denying that Pinker is an entertaining writer. You might be annoyed if you start to feel that he's trying to juggle too many conceptual balls at once. The danger is that his charm may make you overlook the vacuousness of his evolutionary pronouncements. Does he really think each of the many "algorithms" he says are needed for our intelligence and consciousness fortituously arrived miraculously as needed? Doesn't he understand the biological and molecular complexity required for even the "simplest" algorithms to be programmed into matter? And the difficulties involved not only in the absence of these programs, but in the many failed attempts that must have preceded? His "just-so" evolutionary scenarios and "explanations", vague as can be, are no substitute for science, and are totally useless.

    Perhaps he will reconsider after reading Behe's "Darwin's Black Box" ... but that would take a more open mind. One can only hope....more info

  • Digging Minds!
    How the mind works or say better 'Digging Minds' - the author reveals the research on Minds and his survey is all 'Ahs' and 'Oops' coz as we read the book, Steven Pinker is cheering thru the chapters on Human brain. His arguments are quite unique esp. the Love chapter is all a 'ga-ga emotional swings' The powerful emotions override circumstances with ease and a glad heart is resourceful in finding joys! Mind itself is a 'Thought Factory' and it can make a heaven or hell out of it. The author digs into psychology - neuroscience effects and how the senses perform. With indepth views, the book might seem misleading at places but to sum up, the authors leaves room for the'free' flow of thoughts. Signs of anxiety, fear, insecurity is emotional outbursts seen in some people which is totally controlled by the thinking process of the brain. Hearing, speaking, thinking are all mind triggered emotions and even memories relate to Mindful thoughts. The book is a good read on Mind functioning and if one is interested in Psychology reads, this is good Pick!...more info
  • Wonderful Wandering Wordy Work
    From Pluralities, by Eugenie A. Nida

    We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes;
    But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
    Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese;
    Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

    You may find a lone mouse or a whole lot of mice,
    But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
    If the plural of man is always called men,
    Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?


    Words and Rules, by Steven Pinker, is an engaging and whimsical romp through the verdant fields of linguistics.

    The book begins with the modest goal of decoding the human brain, as it pertains to language. It then proceeds, through the most delightful of examples- including verbal illustrations by Dr. Seuss- to pick the language we hold so dear to bits.

    Steven Pinker's main premise- which, through the book, continues to hold- is that the workings of both language and the brain can both be discovered by seeing the negative space around them, as it were. By finding the patterns in irregular verbs and nouns, the rules that they defy begin to come to light.

    This may sound like a scenic trip through The Doldrums to the average reader, but it is in reality a charming and easily understood foray into the wilds of linguistics. If you know what a verb is and you know what a noun is, you're ready to start learning about the rest of the lot.

    Pinker turns boxes and oxen, gone and went, the amazingly varied conjugation of is, and other disparaged treasures of English into the beams of a hundred searching flashlights, which he then shines on the rest of language. He feels absolutely no compunction about positing a theory in one chapter, only to gleefully disprove it in the next, and the result is a winding foray through foreign lands and familiar, and through the many succeeding generations of English. Shakespeare and modern slurvian both find a home in his carefully constructed analysis, and he diligently leads the modern reader through each of them, holding their hand as necessary with use of well chosen and familiar examples. While you may begin muttering (or giggling) to yourself as you read, this is one linguistics book that won't leave you in the dust.

    This book, chopped into hefty chapters- bring a bookmark- and illuminated by well chosen and varied excerpts that serve as both teachers and examples, will arm you for any linguistic argument that you wish to engage in, and might solve a few of the lamented confusions that proliferate in the English language. A fun read, and good for your brain.

    Giggles: Very high, once you get into it.
    Factuality: As confirmed as anything else you'll find on the subject; cites several scientific studies.
    Difficulty: Medium.

    More book reviews every Monday at Tome Rat Reviews: tomerat.blogspot.com...more info
  • Nothing about how the mind works
    Desperate attempts at making an apple out of an orange. Little to do with the mind, only an artificial web of stolen ideas from computer science....more info
  • Steven Pinker vs. Robert Wright: Who said what first?
    In the spirit of brevity, Pinker completely reiterates Robert Wright in every sense of the word "reiterates." I won't bore anyone with arbitrary citations.
    If you are a reader.
    Read Pinker's "How the Mind Works" and then read Robert Wright's "The Moral Animal," I think anyone will agree after checking the publishing dates that Pinker's is at least not innovative or creative....more info
  • Dissapointing
    I found this book to be lackluster and quite disappointing. The author is essentially using the text to launch an attack against humanistic ideas within the social sciences, unfortunately (or fortunately if you *are* a humanist) his arguments are quite weak, and generally set up and attack straw men. The theories he does propose turn out to be (as other reviewers have stated) faulty interpretations of computer science, and it is clear that the author does not understand the ideas that he is so vehemently attacking....more info
  • Reverse engineering
    Darwin initiated the trend of reverse engineering nature. Capek invented the term robot. Creating robots tests the theory of mind.

    The computational theory of mind rests on the work of Alan Turing, Alan Newell, Herbert Simon, Marvin Minsky, Hilary Putnam, and Jerry Fodor. John Searle and Roger Penrose have attacked separately the computational theory of mind.

    Mind is a system of organs. Humans entered the cognitive niche. What was needed includes intelligence, large groups, (communication), and hands. Intuition about essences is guided by a sense of categories. Moral emotions are designed by natural selection. Our modern minds remain baffled by consciousness, concepts of the self, free will, meaning, knowledge, and morality.

    Notes, References, and Index form a conclusion to the work. It is excellent. The book is an expansive discussion of every possible subject coming under the heading of mind. ...more info
  • Don't start here if easily bored!
    Pinker is no doubt knowledgeable in the subject matter. He also seems to be an avid student and conscientious worker of the cognitive science field. And that's just fine. But as an author he does a poorer job. Its not that the book is a bad one. It is actually quite good, but for the wrong reasons. As a popular science book (that is what it is) it shouldn't have been so long and densely packed with details. It defeats it own purposes. As an "evolutionary logician" Pinker should have made the process short, written his "programmatic declaration" (that is what the book is) in a logically concise propositional way, a number of if-thens with few but select examples, and kept the long version to his graduate or postgraduate students. Thereby he could have focused more effectivelly on convincingly narrating his point of view.

    As the book stands now it is too cram-packed with information to make for a pleasurable read. The book is a pastiche of disparate elements taken from all over and thrown together without a modicum of integration, no red-line, not even a thin one, no narrative, no nothing, nada. Just occassional talk of evolutionary theories and computation (which doesn't really qualify as a red-line in a 600-page mammoth). The end result is a hard to follow, incoherent read, saying much about everything but very little engaging about the mind. Perhaps this is how the mind looks under the microscope (though I doubt it) but in that case Pinker should have done his readers a favour and wrapped it up a little nicer. Writing popular science books is not a contest in honesty. There is no shame in sparing the innocent...

    A bigger, epistemologiacally more troubling, problem is the fact that Pinker's complex modular view of the mind comes "dangerously close" to approximating the complexity of the "real thing" thus loosing its heuristic value for all those mortals not endowed with exceptional, transhuamn, intelligence. To his credit one ought to mention that this is a general problem of much current science; what the philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright has called the "intelligibility problem of modern science". Unfortunately for all of us science's booming complexity and specialization is generally coupled with an exponential decline in it's intelligibility and it's heuristic value. Science is increasingly taking-off into realms ordinary people cannot or do not want to visit. And this time not due to snobbyism or elitism but due to it's accelerating perplexity (which shouldn't be mistaken for "value"). No wonder that New Age is so popular among ordinary people and the public utility of science is increasingly questioned by journalists and activists. Is this the kind of science we want? Science is really turning hyperreal - an image more than a real something - and Pinker, though he dislikes this, can't really help it (though he makes an admittedly brave attempt to resist it).

    Pinker's peculiar brand of cognitive science has been critisized among others by Jerome Brunner (one of the pioners of the cognitive revolution), Oliver Sack, John Searle, Albert Bandura and Raymond Tallis. According to the standard critiscism the modularity of mind that Pinker advocates divorces psychology from ordinary experience and its decontextualized stance fails to take culture seriously. The central human preoccupation of meaning seeking and meaning construction is thus generally lost in the persuit of a technological "quick fix". This theoretical tradition, the modular brain as an information processing device, has its roots in the adoption of the computer as a metaphor of the human mind. This tradition has been fruitful, but it is also flawed. Taken to extremes it boils down human experience to just a bunch of mathematical equations that could only interest hard-core mathematicians and engineers.

    The book is not helpful for the practically inclined either. What can you do with this veritable info-shower? Probe or test your intelligence? Counsel a friend or relative? Effect behavioural change? Build a little robot? Due to its general layout the book is not even good for enlightening and guiding a computer scientist trying to replicate the many computer simulations of brain functioning Pinker refers to. Its only merit is as a kind of pocket encyclopaedia of the mind, albeit of the spicier kind (Pinker likes to speak his mind).

    In conclusion: being knowledgeable in a field of technical expertise, unfortunately, seldom translates into being a good writer. Pinker is not an exception. His writing is enjoyable and satisfying but the book misses the point. And that is the first requirement of good writing. The reader looking for something more pedagogicaly writen should look elsewhere. Two very good expositions of the workings of the mind are Varela's et al "The Embodied Mind" and Damasio's "The feeiling of what happens"; they have a red line and a narrative structure which makes their reading worthwhile even if one disagres with their conclusions. Pinker's book could perhaps be of interest to social science students that want to place their psychological queries in a somewhat larger context but do not have the time to look for a better book......more info
  • Great Fun!
    This is one of the most fun and interesting books ever. It's very informative too, even if the science may be a bit speculative at times. Where the science is weak, Pinker fills in with incredibly thoughtful good sense. Yeah, the title is a bit overblown, perhaps even illogical, but that's part of the fun. Why give a book a boring or wimpy title? I've seen Steven Pinker in person and he is a genius. I sleep through most lectures, but not his. He's a scientist, humorist, satirist, and an incredibly astute observer of humans and human society. He could be our Mark Twain, though with a very subtle sense of humor. He seizes the high ground and gives you the whole picture from there rather than boring you with pointless details. This is a long book full of details too, but he keeps it to the relevant ones....more info
  • Going Backwards
    I bought this book to gain insight. Instead I found an alchemist trying to discuss chemistry. I should have known from the title. We have/are a brain not a mind. Reading this book is painful. One of his first tasks Pnker undertakes is to criticize behavioral science. He calls it stimulus response. Behavioral science gives six causes for human behavior:
    1. Genetic Endowment
    2. Pre-natal chemical environment
    3. Post-natal chemical environment
    4. Classical conditioning(Pavlov)
    5. Operant conditioning(Skinner)
    6. Traumatic factors
    Even Skinnerian conditioning, which he singles out for being stimulus response involves consequences as a major determinant. Behaviorism is a science that like evolution it is selective. Anyone who calls this stimulus response shows complete misunderstanding. Pinker then carries on his ignorance by saying that if a person runs from a burning building it is because they "Believed" they were in danger. He basically uses what he would believe and puts it in the brain of his example. First of all he knows nothing of what another person believes. Second thinking a person that would have to escape any dangerous situation by formulating a belief and then acting on it is just ludicrous. A brain couldn't evolve to function this way. Beliefs are effects. Belief's are conditioned and behavior is conditioned. Just because a belief goes along with a behavior doesn't mean it causes it. Thinking that is superstitious behavior. Our education system is really pathetic. Glad behavioral techniques that were 100% effective in increasing learning skills and self confidence were shelved to fund teaching techniques that saw dramatic declines in learning skills and self confidence. Of course this could only happen in a society where worldviews are conditioned and logic is never automatic, but Pinker hasn't learned observational skills to recognize this. Back to the example. Just because you didn't see all the variables that caused the girl to run from the burning building doesn't mean they don't exist. Your criticism of behaviorism because it can't predict behavior is so inane it is beyond words. Like people that criticize evolution it is because they have no understanding. Behaviorism never would claim to predict behavior. There are billions of variables that determine every unique behavior and the science is a framework to make effective changes through trial and error. You continue your archaic catalog of already answered criticisms by saying Skinner said men don't think. He never said this. Thoughts are superfluous. If they were causes as you claim then what people thought and what they did would be the same. They aren't and never will. Thoughts are unverbalized speech that are triggered and sometimes go along with behavior. It is real world stimuli(experiences) and their interaqction with the brain that determines behavior. If you weren't conditioned to swallow all the cultural BS maybe you could see science always disproves the presuppositions our culture conditons many to accept. No the Sun doesn't revolve around the Earth. Yes we are products of our environment. This may be predictably dismissed by a culture conditioned to shiver at these words, but understanding this is the only way we will ever make effecdtive, positive changes to improve the human condition. A shame your book is doing everything one can to set us back hundreds of years. What is your real name? Nim Chimpsky. BTW your language book is another pathetic exercise in ignorance. B.F. Skinner's book is definitive and actually creates a philosphy that allows for effective changes. Time will expose your ignorance, but I am living now, so I want to let everyone know B.F. Skinner was the only person that was right and did useful work. His science is evolutionarily sound and hope our culture has of making effective, postive changes. This book is sad.
    ...more info
  • An important, but somewhat flawed book.
    Strengths of Pinker's work are his engaging style, his breadth of coverage and his summarizing of much research. Alas (as many reviewers have pointed out), the book has a few flaws.

    The most glaring one is the computationalism section. Pinker attempts to defend the notion that brains are computers. While this was orthodoxy in cognitive science and philosophy of mind, it is somewhat less popular these days. This reviewer still thinks the approach has merit, but Pinker does not do justice to this issue.

    Nor, realistically, could he - the book is long enough as it is. Arguably, the book could be then done in two volumes: one on computational cognitive psychology, and one on evolutionary psychology, with each drawing on the other volume as needed.

    Another issue which is important for popularizations but not for academic volumes is the question of materialism. A perusal of the other reviews shows that materialism offended / turned off many readers. While this is the metaphysical position necessary for scientific research, many members of the public may not realize it and need to be brought up to speed.

    This yields another point: Pinker's tome is intended as a popularization - but it does at times flirt with being an academic review, or a textbook. This makes some of it seem a bit unfocused.

    Finally: Evolutionary psychology is a bit underdeveloped for the reasons also pointed out by many reviewers - it does not make much contact with neuropsychology. This is unfortunate for the field, but in my view does not detract from Pinker's volume which is summarizing. Taking the book as a monograph would definitely result in this being a limitation....more info

  • Three pounds of hamburger
    Great book about how the Brain works but should be titled, "How the Brain Works". Without the Soul, there is no mind. The Soul IS the mind operating within the brain. Three pounds of hamburger with ten trillion neurons flashing is still not MIND!....more info
  • dense read
    this was the first book of steven pinker's that i've read. it was very interesting at times, but the material was a bit too dense in some parts. it was difficult to glean a point very easily. and not all of the diagrams were helpful in elucidating whatever the text was trying to say. it was an okay, long, read. nevertheless, that hasnt discouraged me from tackling pinker's "the language instinct" next....more info
  • Families not Species?
    I enjoy Mr Pinker's books - this is not the first one I have read.A nd yet I find myself balking at some of it. Indeed I have a personal characteristic, not unique of course, that separates me from a lot of what is said here. A physical characteristic, not an emotional one. Consequently I keep finding myself challenging, defending, objecting .....

    Previously I had read 'Why Sex is Fun?' by Jared Diamond and during this book I realised that the title is totally misleading. It suggests that sex was developed by a conscious entity who thought - 'How can I make this work? I know, I'll make it fun.' For me this is back to front. We are here - our species - because sex just happens to be fun. If it were unpleasant or a chore we probably wouldn't be here.

    So here we are again looking at evolution and trying to justify human behaviour as somehow driven by genetic imperatives - as if the genes are trying to meet objectives. For me, this is crazy. The genes are the accidental vehicles that keep the species going, but they don't do it by design.

    And midway through the chapter on families in Mr Pinker's book I realised something new. All we can tell about our existence from evolution is that the species is still here, and something about the way we do things has contributed to that. But Bonobos are here too and they behave in an entirely different way - despite that, they are successful in terms of evolution. But as soon as Mr Pinker talks of the individual male wanting to promote his genes in advance of another man's I know the argument has gone off the rails. We are now talking about - not persistence of the species (which is demonstrable), but persistence of the particular family (which I suspect is not demonstrable). As far as the species is concerned what difference does it make whose genes are being contributed as long as there is variety.

    OK, men do not like to be cuckolded but I don't think that that is an evolutionary matter. The psychological studies need to look elsewhere.

    I recommend this book because it will get you thinking, not that I agree with it necessarily.

    Recommended other reading:
    'Why is Sex Fun?' by Jared Diamond

    One that you might like to consider, but I hated:
    'The Red Queen' by Matt Ridley...more info

  • A Good Place to Start Reading about Cognition
    Pinker explains some very difficult concepts as clearly and as simply as is possible. This is the best kind of science writing: it deals with the subject in a sophisticated, fair manner, yet it keeps its the pace lively and entertaining....more info
  • Good, but with some minor faults
    I also read Steven Pinker's `the Blank Slate', which had been recommended by a friend who knew of my interest in the brain and brain-mind area. I was also, as many other reviewers here, impressed again by Pinker's prose style. The witty asides are often apropos and lighten what might otherwise be a dry description of the findings of neuroscience. However, though I like his style, I don't always agree with Pinker and in the cases where I perceive him being wrong, this witty and cheeky style can verge on the snide or smarmy. There is nothing like a dismissive, cynical remark to deal with those who do not share your point of view. But it's a cheap shot and not worthy of Pinker, who can be much smarter when it suits him. E.g. he does this in his critique of two writers who he implies are almost heretical in daring to challenge the computational theory of the mind: John Searle and Roger Penrose. His cynical put down of these 2 writers implies that they were foolish and justly criticized by the majority of philosophers who favor the computational theory. However, the majority was not as large as implied by Pinker. There are quite a few philosophers who argued for the ideas of Searle with his Chinese Room thought experiment or Penrose with his application of G?del's theorem to the non-algorhythmic side of thought. Pinker thinks that Searle was only exploring meanings of the word `understand' with his Chinese Room: my own take there is that on the contrary Searle omitted an aspect that didn't sit well with his conscious-brain/digestion-stomach analogy: what was missing in the room was a light floating round the library corresponding to the qualia of understanding the Chinese queries which the western librarian did not understand. Also, the book, being written in 1998, can be excused for putting so much emphasis on identical twins whose behavior is bizarrely similar. But since the Human Genome Project completed in 2003, we know that there are only 22,000 genes corresponding to about 10 megabytes of data. But this data is scarcely sufficient to specify the complexity of the 200 different types of cell in the body, it's 12 or more physiological subsystems and all the (rough) structure of the brain. That is true even if the non-coding RNA is considered to have a control function Thus it is ludicrous to suggest that genes could be responsible for the remarkable synchronization between separated twins as reported by Pinker. Indeed, Pinker's detested ghost in the machine might be a more reasonable explanation for this synchronization - via non-local mind or telepathy. So maybe a new edition of this book is due where some of these anachronisms are tidied up.

    There are some good points about the book: I like his dismissal of the behaviourists: his jokes about their predilection for rats etc. are justified. And though he pushes the computational theory further than he should, and re-hashes some older findings from cognitive psychology, his position, though mechanist, is less extreme than that of Skinner & co. and he acknowledges the 'residual' mystery of subjective consciousness and in this sense is justified to call himself a sort of 'mysterian'. This is more than can be said of Dennett or his ilk....more info
  • Good, but with some minor faults
    I also read Steven Pinker's `the Blank Slate', which had been recommended by a friend who knew of my interest in the brain and brain-mind area. I was also, as many other reviewers here, impressed again by Pinker's prose style. The witty asides are often apropos and lighten what might otherwise be a dry description of the findings of neuroscience. However, though I like his style, I don't always agree with Pinker and in the cases where I perceive him being wrong, this witty and cheeky style can verge on the snide or smarmy. There is nothing like a dismissive, cynical remark to deal with those who do not share your point of view. But it's a cheap shot and not worthy of Pinker, who can be much smarter when it suits him. E.g. he does this in his critique of two writers who he implies are almost heretical in daring to challenge the computational theory of the mind: John Searle and Roger Penrose. His cynical put down of these 2 writers implies that they were foolish and justly criticized by the majority of philosophers who favor the computational theory. However, the majority was not as large as implied by Pinker. There are quite a few philosophers who argued for the ideas of Searle with his Chinese Room thought experiment or Penrose with his application of G?del's theorem to the non-algorhythmic side of thought. Pinker thinks that Searle was only exploring meanings of the word `understand' with his Chinese Room: my own take there is that on the contrary Searle omitted an aspect that didn't sit well with his conscious-brain/digestion-stomach analogy: what was missing in the room was a light floating round the library corresponding to the qualia of understanding the Chinese queries which the western librarian did not understand. Also, the book, being written in 1998, can be excused for putting so much emphasis on identical twins whose behavior is bizarrely similar. But since the Human Genome Project completed in 2003, we know that there are only 22,000 genes corresponding to about 10 megabytes of data. But this data is scarcely sufficient to specify the complexity of the 200 different types of cell in the body, it's 12 or more physiological subsystems and all the (rough) structure of the brain. That is true even if the non-coding RNA is considered to have a control function Thus it is ludicrous to suggest that genes could be responsible for the remarkable synchronization between separated twins as reported by Pinker. Indeed, Pinker's detested ghost in the machine might be a more reasonable explanation for this synchronization - via non-local mind or telepathy. So maybe a new edition of this book is due where some of these anachronisms are tidied up.

    There are some good points about the book: I like his dismissal of the behaviourists: his jokes about their predilection for rats etc. are justified. And though he pushes the computational theory further than he should, and re-hashes some older findings from cognitive psychology, his position, though mechanist, is less extreme than that of Skinner & co. and he acknowledges the 'residual' mystery of subjective consciousness and in this sense is justified to call himself a sort of 'mysterian'. This is more than can be said of Dennett or his ilk....more info
  • Amusing, Decent
    Not the revelation that I hoped for, but an amusing read. For a layman, this is a good overview of psychology, with bits of evolution and other topics thrown in. I was disappointed with how Pinker belabored the dry comparison between the mind and a computer. That should have been 1/4 as long. I skipped on to the next section, and didn't feel I lost anything.

    I'd recommend this for someone who is a casual reader of the sciences....more info

  • Better on evolutionary psychology than on the mind.
    I found the title somewhat misleading as the greater part of this book reports on the findings of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology is not a new subject to me, but I found Pinker's chapter on the arts totally new and intriguing. The first part of the book explains Pinker's view on how the mind works. Pinker is at his best employing a fluent, discursive style with references to popular culture as likely as to scholarly works. He sometimes digresses, but hell, I finally understood what deconstructionism was. Unfortunately, while this discursive style works with evolutionary psychology, something more is needed when discussing neural nets, algorithmic implementations of artificial intelligence and the like. Pinker realizes this, but does not do a particularly good job. He does have a fine chapter on visual perception, and on just how much processing and innate assumptions are involved, but even here I would have benefited from more recapitulation. Pinker tends to give short shrift to ideas he doesn't hold, and has a truly absurd argument to buttress his claim that the only reason sex was an evolutionary success was to fight disease. More importantly, he dismisses any extended discussion of consciousness as not fruitful (cf Antonio Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens)....more info
  • A Logical Mind Interprets and Sees a Logical Mind
    I found this book to be excellent and a fun read.

    It goes into detail about how one can view the human mind from a logical and behaviorist stand-point. He discusses a computer program type analogy for how a mind can work with a minimum of sub-programs or data types.

    I did find the book a little too heavy on the logical and strictly behaviorist point of view. The human mind or any mind for that matter seems a bit more than a simple set of instructions - but this may not be the case.

    All in all, I thought this book was excellent and was a good introduction on how to think about how the mind works or could work based on a simplified set of programs and data types and instructions - if you will.

    I highly recommend it to anyone interest in psychology or logic....more info
  • Funny and incredibly profound at the same time
    Pinker is one smart fellow. Fortunately, he has seen fit to step out of the ivory tower and share with us some of his knowledege about how the mind works. Many of our most basic beliefs are put to the test and found wanting by the data Pinker presents, but he's convincing. My guess is that when you've finished this tome you will come away with a much changed perception of yourself in terms of your motives and your actions. I bet if Darwin were around, he'd love to read this book!...more info
  • At least we know how Pinker's mind works!
    I still don't know how MY mind works, but I don't care: It works and the more I read by Pinker, the more I think I know how HIS mind works! Delightful!
    Gisela Gasper Fitzgerald, author of ADOPTION: An Open, Semi-Open or Closed Practice?...more info
  • The algorithmic mind
    Unravelling the mechanisms of human thinking and emotions is garnering increased attention from dedicated scientists and thinkers. Old attitudes and preconceptions are being swept away by newer ideas based on firm research. Steven Pinker has assembled these results to provide an outstanding synopsis of cognitive studies. He refers to the old views of the mind's working as "mysteries." Pinker, as a good scientist, applauds the updating of mental "mysteries" to "problems" capable of resolution. He makes no claim to the problems all being solved, or, in a few instances, even being identified. His approach, however, is a refreshing and innovative one, aimed at anyone wishing to gain an understanding of what it means to be human. As might be expected from the man who wrote The Language Instinct, he's a master of illustrative example and with many anecdotes for teaching the reader.

    Pinker uses evolutionary roots as the foundation for his presentation. Like it or not, our genes carry a large part of our mental processes. The mind is not a "blank slate," but is born with vast supply of historical information on which to build as it matures. The "cultural environment" so dear to some commentators makes only a small contribution to who we become as adults. Even a child's peer groups influence its development more than does parental input, and by a huge margin. This situation arises because the mind is an algorithmic processor. It is essentially independent of an individual's environment, with a built-in learning capability to select from the wide spectrum of inputs. To Pinker, this essentially unconstrained process is part of the evolutionary path. Children's independence reflects the need of natural selection to sort among "what is" to arrive at what "will be" in the future. There are certainly no guarantees of how development will proceed over generations.

    The computational image is based on "problem-solving." When to take a step, avoid predators, seek a mate, find food. Clearly, as Pinker states, computational mind processes are as universal as brains. Therefore, in Pinker's view, each brain develops modules for dealing with these issues. Like any powerful computer, he stresses, the mind depends on parallel processing for flexibility. How else, for example, could the brain control breathing while also thinking about a Mozart string trio? As humans evolved, they either added new problem-solving modules, or improved on the inherited ones. This is an algorithmic process - adding small instructions over time as adaptations to changing conditions. It is clearly a universal evolutionary process that has achieved enormous expression in the human species. Each
    acquired "tactic" could be passed down through generations, with each successful transmission building on an inherited base.

    "The mind is not the brain, but what the brain does," is the key statement of the book. Pinker supports this image with numerous examples of mind/brain functions. Why our brain "sees" a three-dimensional image in a stereographic display when we know the photographs are two dimensional is but one of many instances he cites. The various factors he proposes must not be considered as independent entities, he stresses. The algorithmic processes form a whole, but not one based neither on conflicting elements nor particularly complementary ones. Weightings of importance take place continually, but even the expression of an idea is not a mental "victory" for that particular idea. The human mind's greatest attribute is its flexibility.

    As with any of the recent works on cognition, Pinker's analysis isn't the final word. Given the complexity of the mind, that is clearly an impossible goal. Yet Pinker has broached many new concepts in this book. All deserve further careful study. Pinker avoids dogmatism with his elegant treatment. This book is required in furthering your own thinking about our place in nature and deserves respect and attention. He welcomes serious studies in the subject, even if the work appears to refute his ideas. But he insists that the refutation must rely on solid science and not traditional dogmas....more info

  • How a Mind Works
    I think this book is really intresting it talks about all types of stuff like for example how a mind works. This book is more for a person that enjoys pschology and is actually intrested in anatomy or about the mind and how it works. I chose to read this book bocause I plan on working in the pschology field....more info
  • In and Out of his element
    Steven Pinker certainly knows his stuff when it comes to how our brain works. If you have the endurance and are a scientist already, you may get through this incredibly monotonous book. He is able to comprehend the mechanics of how the human mind works, but flops when it comes to drawing any meaningful implications. His views about religion and philosophy are stale and hackneyed. While his discussions about the biology of the brain and its varied mechanisms are within his expertise, his discussions of religion and philosophy are shallow and un-thoughtful-bordering upon arrogance. I would still recommend the book; it is better than counting sheep!...more info
  • Just a small note
    Other reviewers are apparently more qualified to criticize this book. I'm only making a note about content.

    If you've read Pinker's book The Language Instinct and Wright's book The Moral Animal, then you have nothing to gain from this book, except the chapter describing sight. If you are interested in the meaning of life in light of evolution, read The Moral Animal. Pinker has little to say about it, and what he does say he doesn't explain well.

    If you are interested in a study of religion in this light read Religion Explained by Boyer or perhaps Darwin's Cathedral by David Wilson. And if you want spirituality in light of all of this, try The Sacred Depths of Nature by Ursula Goodenough....more info