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How The Mind Works [Paperback]

Steven Pinker
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (141 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 1 1999
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.

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From Amazon

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

MIT's Pinker, who received considerable acclaim for The Language Instinct (LJ 2/1/94), turns his attention to how the mind functions and how and why it evolved as it did. The author relies primarily on the computational theory of mind and the theory of the natural selection of replicators to explain how the mind perceives, reasons, interacts socially, experiences varied emotions, creates, and philosophizes. Drawing upon theory and research from a variety of disciplines (most notably cognitive science and evolutionary biology) and using the principle of "reverse-engineering," Pinker speculates on what the mind was designed to do and how it has evolved into a system of "psychological faculties or mental modules." His latest book is extraordinarily ambitious, often complex, occasionally tedious, frequently entertaining, and consistently challenging. Appropriate for academic and large public libraries.?Laurie Bartolini, MacMurray Coll. Lib., Jacksonville, Ill.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Computer scientists - don't buy this book! April 2 2002
Format:Paperback
Ugh! Horrible! If you're a computer scientist, or even a person who has occasionally dabbled in the field, you'll be disgusted with the constant mistakes and misunderstandings associated with every mention of computer science theory in this book. Considering that Pinker's theory of "How the Mind Works" is based on the computational model of the mind, his near-total ignorance of actual computer science means that his whole argument is based on material he doesn't understand. He also presents the computational model of the mind as far more universally accepted than it really is.
The number of mistakes Pinker makes in the fields I understand makes me wonder how many mistakes he makes that I am unaware of, lacking expertise in other fields. I treat everything I learned from this book as suspect and untrustworthy as a result.
"How the Mind Works" is a bad rehash of several books I've already read - "The Moral Animal," "The Emperor's New Mind," any introductory psychology text. I recommend it only to people who want a brief, shallow overview of a field they will never research further.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars good cognitive science, very fuzzy biology Aug. 3 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
How the Mind Works shows what happens when a solid scholar in one field becomes enamored of another. Pinker is a wonderful writer and very effective when explaining language; but his understanding and feel for evolutionary biology are truly shallow, and his resorts to adaptation are usually simplistic that they read like a college term paper. So the book is very much a mixed bag.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Worst Book Ever Written on the Human Mind Oct. 9 2002
Format:Paperback
.....and here's why.
Let's say you are a space alien on the moon busily engaged in observing human beings and their various aircraft. You write a book on aerodynamics wherein you provide a mathematical model of computation that describes the outward behavior of what you see. But in the introduction of the book you claim that you can model the flight of planes, rockets, and balloons without any need to consider air. Of course aerodynamics without air is as stupefyingly dumb as claiming to understand the mind without understanding the neuronal basis of the brain. But this is what Pinker actually does in his book, and even trumpets the fact!!
Thus to quote Pinker: "This book is about the brain, but I will not say much about neurons, hormones, and neurotransmitters. That is because the mind is not the brain but what the brain does... That special thing is information processing, or computation." (p7)
In other words, by saying that "the mind is what the brain does", Pinker neglects to define the brain! By reverse engineering the mind, and attributing behavioral functions to wholly inferred computational modules somehow selected by evolution, Pinker neglects the massive corpus of findings in neuro-psychology that have detailed in painstaking detail the motivational systems in human and mammalian brains. The sub-cortical systems that are critical for the generation of human emotions and human motivation are not 'computational' by any stretch of the imagination, and must be incorporated in any model of how the brain actually works. Without this, understanding the mind is impossible. Nonetheless, Pinker wears this ignorance like a badge, a badge that discredits his own argument even before its substantive products are considered.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This is an unfortunate introduction to the topic of mind and brain.
I have been a researcher in neurophysiology and cognition, and currently am a researcher in artificial intelligence. When I picked up this book to read, I was expecting great things, since Pinker has such a strong "public" reputation. After struggling to find real substance in the book (I read the first 3 chapters and then about 1/3 of each of the remaining chapters), I became curious about what other reviewers had said about it. It was soon clear that there were two camps: those who loved it (five stars) and those who thought it was shallow, misrepresentative, glib, or even pseudo-scientific (1 or 2 stars). Most of those who found it excellent (the vast majority) seemed to be generally unfamiliar with the field, while those who disliked it were usually very familiar with the field.
For the uninitiated or laymen readers, it appears to be a very entertaining and stimulating experience, but I believe it is very unfortunate that the breadth of treatment by Pinker is taken for a great intellectual exercise. On the contrary, he actually says very little of substance about how the mind works, as the informed disappointed reviewers have pointed out. It seems to be mostly a scattered rehashing of old and not particularly illuminating ideas in the field.
I like many other researchers am concerned about conveying the findings in our field to the general public and potential young scholars. But there is a trend in the consumption of science (and knowledge in general) in this society which I find disturbing. We have become consumers of knowledge without serious reflection.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A waste of time June 10 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
If you know anything about the brain or evolution or even about how actual science is done, this book will read as just more propaganda from the evolutionary psychology camp. There is really nothing new here or particularly controversial. It is mainly a collection of obvious "just so" stories. Pinker's efforts are especially problematic as the book drones on and on and sloppy hand waving substitutes more and more for any kind of scientific analysis.
If you're not familiar with the areas he's writing about or with the scientific method, the book is even more problematic because you might actually be lured into believing his stories and thinking that they actually represent a bona fide scientific way of making sense of the world. ("Hey yeah! I must like playing Quake because those skills were important on the savanna.")
Besides the ideas in this book being obvious and/or unfalsifiable, the writing is really annoying. If what passes for wit in science writing is recycling other people's old jokes and making constant references to pop culture, I'll take non-witty any day.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Natural Selection is the Blind Programmer
Being the first book I have read of Steven Pinkers, it met all expectations and then some. I wouldn't recommend this book to someone who doesn't have any basic understanding of... Read more
Published on Jan. 21 2010 by L. Young
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant
with simple, familiar language MIT professor Pinker delves into how the mind evolved and how it works. Read more
Published on June 14 2004 by Thomas W. Meagher
3.0 out of 5 stars 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... Read more
Published on June 13 2004 by Larry M. van Hook
5.0 out of 5 stars 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. Read more
Published on May 18 2004 by Robert Huber
3.0 out of 5 stars 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. Read more
Published on May 13 2004 by A. G. Plumb
5.0 out of 5 stars 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. Read more
Published on May 4 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars 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... Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2004 by Ilaxi S. Patel
2.0 out of 5 stars 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. Read more
Published on Jan. 29 2004 by x-plorer
4.0 out of 5 stars 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. Read more
Published on Jan. 14 2004 by algo41
5.0 out of 5 stars 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! Read more
Published on Sept. 7 2003 by Gisela Gasper Fitzgerald
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