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How the Mind Works (1997)

by Steven Pinker

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4,431382,143 (3.96)61
In this book, Steven Pinker 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. 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? The 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.… (more)
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» See also 61 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
237
  revirier | Dec 13, 2021 |
The beginning sections of this book on consciousness, visual perception, cognitive structure, and how the structure of language can illuminate the way that the brain actually processes information are excellent, and worth the price of the book right there. In particular, I don't think you will find many more interesting discussions on how seeing works than Pinker's description of why so many people are frustrated by Magic Eye diagrams (personally, I've always despised them, and now I know why!). As a hardcore work on intelligence those parts don't reach the heights of Marvin Minsky's godlike book The Society of Mind, as few books by mortals can ever hope to, but they're still quite good. The later sections of the book, however, are much less focused and seem to be more about social structure - i.e. the interaction of many minds - than about the mind, per se. I suppose they're justified because most if not all social behavior can be explained as epiphenomena of the way that our brains are wired, and he did find ways to ground things like incest taboos to the evolutionary explanations he brought up in the first few parts, yet I kept wishing he would go back to talking about all of the neat things psychologists have learned about how to fool our systems of perception and what that says about the brain rather than snarking about academic debates over gender roles. As a side note, I can't help but think that Pinker must have been a huge hippie back in the 60s and 70s, and is working out some issues with that part of his life in his works. The Family Values chapter in particular is rife with a peculiar mix of open contempt for the peace-and-love sentiments of stuff like John Lennon's Imagine, along with heavily qualified semi-assurances that the stifling conservative cynicism that John Lennon was opposing is equally misguided and not supported by any natural or biological laws. Pinker never contradicts himself, exactly, you just definitely get the impression that maybe he had recently found some pictures of himself in bell-bottoms or something and is trying to exorcise some bad memories through popular science non-fiction by taking a "the answer is in the middle!" half-stance. It definitely doesn't have the same sense of scientific rigor that the first half of the book did, anyway. Thankfully he expanded the better parts about the history of violence into his recent excellent book The Better Angels of Our Nature (which still has some questionable hippie-bashing, yet is still a cohesive work on its own). Overall I would recommend to inhale everything up to the Hotheads chapter, and then afterwards try to keep an eye out for buried gems like his discussion of the brain's mysterious relationship to music, which is a nice complement to full-length books like Daniel Levitin's The World In Six Songs. Overall quite good. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
NA
  pszolovits | Feb 3, 2021 |
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. ( )
  Pezski | Jun 21, 2020 |
How the Mind Works is my third Pinker and like his previous books this is witty, well written, insightful, and engaging. However I found this book to be a bit too technical for what I wanted to understand about the field of neuroscience and psychology, especially the chapter on visual systems. Pinker gets into every detail about the computational theory of the mind and really goes to great lengths to make his case. I also found his explanations of evolutionary biology to be helpful to my own understanding of the field. If you're looking for a broader read that applies this understanding to psychology, sociology, and philosophy I'd suggest reading The Blank Slate. ( )
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
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(Preface): Any book called How the Mind Works had better begin on a note of humility, and I will begin with two.
Why are there so many robots in fiction, but none in real life?
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In this book, Steven Pinker 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. 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? The 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.

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393318486, 0393334775

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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