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How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker

How the Mind Works (original 1997; edition 1999)

by Steven Pinker

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3,655281,443 (3.95)55
Title:How the Mind Works
Authors:Steven Pinker
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (1999), Paperback, 672 pages
Collections:Your library

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How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker (1997)



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My first foray into the fields of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of the mind. Interesting enough I'm reading it again. ( )
  4bonasa | Jul 5, 2014 |
Pinker explains the computational theory of the mind in easy to understand prose for the layman. It's not all literature summarizing, he also inserts some of his own ideas on all sorts of topics related to being a human — it's a delight to read the thoughts put down by someone who thinks so deeply and writes so honestly. The writing! He manages to make neuroscience, sociology, computer science, music and everything else he touches flow like a breeze. Except stereovision, that part was tricky. ( )
  SpaceyAcey | Sep 23, 2013 |
I found the early sections of this work irritating and quite boring to slog through. It got better later on. I can't speak to the scientific validity of any of this, but some of it was pretty interesting. I have read other pop science works that are better-written, more accessible, or something else I can't put my finger on. Something about Pinker's style or tone didn't click with me. It was just a'ight for me, dawg. ( )
  sansmerci | Jul 26, 2013 |
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  TriMosaic | May 15, 2013 |
Very interesting, well-written, and comprehensive. I appreciated the overview of both computational and evolutionary psychology in one tome of a book; computational psychology is pretty much awesome, and though I must confess that I skipped some of the technical examples in an effort to prevent my brain from breaking, Pinker's writing was for the most part clear and explanatory. I learned a lot!

I would be interested to find out whether any of the specific evolutionary theories have become passe over the last ten years, since a great deal of new research must have come out since then. A second edition would be great if necessary.

I still have reservations about the conclusion of the book. Basically, Pinker says that the computational view of the mind means that consciousness - the ability of the mind to actually experience stimulus and thought, like the taste of a strawberry or the redness of red - has no apparent function. People could go through the complex computational steps of mental activity without experiencing any of it. There is no way to prove that the person sitting next to you is not a "philosophical zombie," who acts like they think and feel but is really just a mechanical thing.

Not only does this mean I have no solid proof that all of you aren't just automatons, but no can explain why we experience things to begin with! Very perverse philosophers have attempted to argue that experience is an illusion, but of course this makes very little sense. Pinker is forced to conclude that our brains are just not smart enough to solve a peculiar problem like the nature of consciousness and self, along with some other potential philosophical problems like the possibility of absolute morality or the ability of language to refer to real things (don't understand the problem with this last one myself.)

I'm not saying that I can prove Pinker is absolutely wrong in this conclusion, but it is deeply unsatisfying. Our minds are, apparently, the product of a lawful universe. Logic is able to tackle, if not solve, every other problem with which we have been presented, from pulsars to microorganisms. The only exception is strange, peripheral problem of where the universe came from to begin with. Why should our minds be another such exception? If we can't explain our minds as a logical evolutionary adaptation, doesn't that call into question evolutionary psychology as a theory? How could human awareness not be the product of evolution (the ultimate logical process)?

Pinker tries to compare our failure to understand the mind to an autistic person's failure to understand the existence of other minds or a dog's colorblindness. But the problem with an autistic person, as I understand it, is not that they can't have the existence of other minds explained to them, but that they don't intuitively act as if they exist. Similarly, if the dog were more intelligent, they could obviously believe in and understand what color is, they just can't imagine what it is to see it. If we were blind to the nature of how sentience interacts with the rest of the universe, we should not realize that we have this blindness until it is explained to us. As it is, we are aware of a blindness and can't think of how to see what we know we know must be out there to be seen.

Finally, if Pinker is right that science has failed us regarding the problem of human consciousness, it's rather questionable for him to argue that religious or mystical explanations are out of the question, because if that were so, it wouldn't be an unsolvable problem after all. Either the logical forces of the universe to which we are all accustomed are responsible for consciousness, or Something Else is. Pinker is right; it would be presumptuous and unscientific to call the Something Else God or Divine Energies or what have you. But we cannot discount these hypotheses outright, and the notion that our consciousnesses apparently work apart from the causation that is evolution at least means that the universe is a much stranger place than we have been led to believe. Really I would rather believe that my mind is the result of scientifically knowable causes, I like science, but if I am to believe Pinker, then another, very weird solution is out there.

Very interesting read, but the ultimate difficulties brought up by the theories are much more frustrating than the elegant solutions they provide! Mostly I just don't like giving up on a scientific solution to a problem; it seems wrong. ( )
  raschneid | Mar 31, 2013 |
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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.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393318486, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:53 -0400)

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In this book the author, a cognitive scientist explains how the brain evolved to store and use information, allowing our ancestors to control their environment, and why we think and act as we do. 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. This work 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. The author 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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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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