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Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind Hardcover – Mar 18 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (March 18 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618879641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618879649
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.3 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #500,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Why are we subject to irrational beliefs, inaccurate memories, even war? We can thank evolution, Marcus says, which can only tinker with structures that already exist, rather than create new ones: Natural selection... tends to favor genes that have immediate advantages rather than long-term value. Marcus (The Birth of the Mind), director of NYU's Infant Language Learning Center, refers to this as kluge, a term engineers use to refer to a clumsily designed solution to a problem. Thus, memory developed in our prehominid ancestry to respond with immediacy, rather than accuracy; one result is erroneous eyewitness testimony in courtrooms. In describing the results of studies of human perception, cognition and beliefs, Marcus encapsulates how the mind is contaminated by emotions, moods, desires, goals, and simple self-interest.... The mind's fragility, he says, is demonstrated by mental illness, which seems to have no adaptive purpose. In a concluding chapter, Marcus offers a baker's dozen of suggestions for getting around the brain's flaws and achieving true wisdom. While some are self-evident, others could be helpful, such as Whenever possible, consider alternate hypotheses and Don't just set goals. Make contingency plans. Using evolutionary psychology, Marcus educates the reader about mental flaws in a succinct, often enjoyable way. (Apr. 16)
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Review

"Marcus's emphasis on the peculiar quirks of our minds -- or odd decisions and weird interpretations -- makes for a fascinating, self-referential read...Marcus's book makes "kluge" an indispensable term for explaining the human mind." (Seed )

"Invigorating fun...inspired, one of those unexpected analogies that help us look at everything afresh." (New York Times Book Review )

"A shot across the bow of intelligent design." (Kirkus Reviews ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 12 2008
Format: Hardcover
"If it works, don't fix it!", runs the old adage. Any engineer will tell you, however, that this is false confidence. What works today may not work tomorrow when conditions change. Animal brains worked for many millions of years. Then Homo sapiens arose somewhere in Africa with an enlarged, busy brain. Combined with walking and handiness, that brain accomplished - and still accomplishes - wondrous things. Until you wonder where you left your car keys. Gary Marcus, in this fluidly written review, backed by a wealth of references, explains how the workings of our brain have been built up over time, with bits added or enhanced through the ages. It makes us a unique species, but it's anything but a fine design. Instead it's what engineers call a "kluge" - an inelegant, marginally efficient product of evolutionary bits cobbled together well enough to get the job done.

Using the fact of our brains having an evolutionary foundation, Marcus shows how Shakespeare's and the Bible's depictions of the brain are flawed. We have poor, erratic memories, we make irrational decisions, and we'll believe things that are patently untrue - sometimes with real tenacity. Our brains are built up from very ancient structures, probably using the same processes, with added complexity developing over time ["This worked last time, but it's not working now. Cobble something up to fix it."]. Knowing that readers might be overwhelmed with data overload [our memories can't handle it!], the author focusses on a half-dozen aspects of brain "design" demonstrating the positive features and the shortfalls. Memory, Belief, Choice, Language, Pleasure and "Things Fall Apart" - distractions. In each case, he explains how the system is usually depicted, what might be the ideal process, and how it actually works.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Eric Lawton TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 14 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is one of the better popular expositions of modern psychology/neuroscience. The basic idea is that our brains are a product of our evolutionary history, and just as our backs are subject to various problems because they were not originally "designed" to be vertical supports, and so represent a compromise, so our brains are very good solutions to certain problems, especially those which are vital for survival and reproduction, but are less optimal for others. Fortunately, if only we can recognize the weak points, we can often avoid being led too far astray by re-imagining the way we look at the problem in such a way that we can solve them with our strong points.
You will know yourself and others better once you have read this book, and will have some hints on how you can work around our weak spots. If you find the subject interesting, however, you will need to read some others, but no surprise as this follows from Gary's first piece of advice on what to do about the kluges: "Whenever possible, consider alternative hypotheses".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Remi Watts on March 20 2009
Format: Hardcover
The book was informative - it explained concepts in a manner such that even an introductory reader could grasp them. However the true implications of 'Klugey'ness were never fully explored, which left the reader not that much better off - yes the brain has a poor memory system but what can be done to fix it? What does it mean for human nature? Marcus unfortunately only scratches the surface of these issues; leaving the reader -almost- unsatisfied
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