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How the Mind Works Hardcover – 8 Jan 1998


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Hardcover, 8 Jan 1998
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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Penguin (8 Jan 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0149016980
  • ISBN-13: 978-0149016988
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,690,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading authorities on language and the mind. His popular and highly praised books include The Stuff of Thought, The Blank Slate, Words and Rules, How the Mind Works, and The Language Instinct. The recipient of several major awards for his teaching, books, and scientific research, Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He also writes frequently for The New York Times, Time, The New Republic, and other magazines.

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Amazon Review

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 marvellously fun, awesomely informative survey of modern brain science. Pinker argues that a combination of Darwin's theories and some 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 at the top of the 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.

Review

Pinker has a knack for making the profound seem obvious.... A fascinating bag of evolutionary insights. " --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Why are there so many robots in fiction, but none in real life? I would pay a lot for a robot that could put away the dishes or run simple errands. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Stuart Robert Harris VINE VOICE on 9 Mar 2001
Format: Paperback
The two leitmotifs of this stimulating book are "the computational theory of mind" and the theory that the mind is an array of "mental organs" that have evolved through natural selection. Kind of like Babbage and Turing meet Darwin and Dawkins. Pinker pulls together material from many sources to illustrate these theories and weaves them together into a compelling overview of the mind.
The computational bits left me feeling out of my depth at several points, but also feeling reassured that this wasn't science lite. And while the evolutionary bits were less challenging - and easier to read - they offered more than enough food for thought.
Apparently some people find the computation plus evolution theory controversial. Others find the ideas old hat. And Pinker himself seems to rub plenty of people up the wrong way for various reasons. Myself, I find the arguments fresh and convincing, and Pinker very enjoyable to read. He covers an awful lot of ground with great gusto, he packs the detail in and makes his points with wry humour.
A book to read once to get the gist and a second time to get the detail.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 2 Jan 2000
Format: Paperback
Like his previous book The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works is popular science at its best: clear, witty, and boldly committed to a specific position within the field, it makes the state of the art in the cognitive neurosciences available to the general public. How the Mind Works presents the most forcefully argued theory of the mind, its origins, and structure that I know of. Highly recommended!
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53 of 59 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on 20 July 2001
Format: Paperback
Steven Pinker is Professor of Psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the renowned books, 'The language instinct' (Penguin, 1995) and 'Words and rules: the ingredients of language' (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000). In this book, described by one reviewer as 'the best book ever written on the human mind', he puts forward a general theory about how and why the human mind works the way it does. Yet it is not a ponderous book; it is beautifully written and full of jokes and stories.
Pinker marries Darwin's theory of evolution to the latest developments in neuroscience and computation. He shows in detail how the process of natural selection shaped our entire neurological networks; how the struggle for survival selects from among our genes those most fit to flourish in our environment. Nature has produced in us bodies, brains and minds attuned to coping intelligently with whatever our environment demands. Housed in our bodies, our minds structure neural networks into adaptive programmes for handling our perceptions. Pinker concludes, "The mind is a system of organs of computation, designed by natural selection to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors faced in their foraging way of life."
Our beliefs and desires are information, allowing us to create meaning. "Beliefs are inscriptions in memory, desires are goal inscriptions, thinking is computation, perceptions are inscriptions triggered by sensors, trying is executing operations triggered by a goal." Pinker writes that the mind has a 'design stance' for dealing with artefacts, a 'physical stance' for dealing with objects, and an 'intentional stance' for dealing with people.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 29 Nov 1998
Format: Paperback
I can't recommend this highly enough - Pinker argues persuasively, eclectically and best of all entertainingly that the human mind is the product of Darwinian natural selection. If his style weren't so readable and accessible, some of the ideas presented would make stuffy academic fare, but he draws his references so widely, from cultural touchstones to established bodies of research, that his ideas ring true on an intellectual and instinctive level. If you are a little jaded by society and cynical of people's motives, read this - then look at the world in a fresh paradigm. Will it make you a better person or change your life? Probably not. But it might change your mind.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 17 Oct 2005
Format: Paperback
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.
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