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How the Mind Works (Penguin Press Science) [Paperback]

Steven Pinker
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Feb 1999 Penguin Press Science

From bestselling author Stephen Pinker, How the Mind Works draws on the latest scientific research to present a blueprint for the most sophisticated machine on Earth: the human brain.

Why do we laugh? What makes memories fade? Why do fools fall in love? Why do people believe in ghosts? How do we recognize a face?

How the Mind Works explores every aspect of our brains, showing that our minds are not a mystery, but rather a system designed by natural selection over years of human evolution.

Whether looking at optical illusions or religion, Mozart or films, Stephen Pinker offers us a new way of understating ourselves.

'Witty, lucid and ultimately enthralling'

'Powerful and gripping ... To have read it is to have consulted a first draft of the structural plan of the human psyche ... a glittering tour de force'

'Witty popular science that you enjoy reading fro the writing as well as for the science ... He is a top-rate writer, and deserves the superlatives that are lavished on him'
  The New York Times

'Pinker has a remarkable capacity to explain difficult ideas and he writes with the comic verve of Martin Amis or Woody Allen ... How the Mind Works will change the way your mind works'
  The Times

Steven Pinker is a best-selling author and Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for cognitive Neuroscience at MIT. Pinker has been awarded research prizes from the National Academy of Sciences and the American Psychological Association, graduate and undergraduate teaching prizes from MIT, and book prizes from the American Psychological Association, the Linguistics Society of America and the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Language Instinct.

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How the Mind Works (Penguin Press Science) + The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Penguin Press Science) + The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind (Penguin Science)
Price For All Three: £24.47

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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (4 Feb 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140244913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140244915
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Why do fools fall in love? Why does a man's annual salary, on average, increase £375 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 10-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.


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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A real page-turner of heavyweight ideas. 9 Mar 2001
By Mr. Stuart Robert Harris VINE VOICE
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
5.0 out of 5 stars my favorite popular science writer 2 Jan 2000
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 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sparkling, provocative science writing 20 July 2001
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read 9 Nov 2011
The title of the book is a bit tongue-in-cheek. It does not explain how the mind creates consciousness or feelings.

Instead it explains, for instance, how emotions can be adaptive, in a Darwinian sense.

Steven fully acknowledges that this says nothing at all about what emotions feel like. That is one of the points of the book - to remind us that there are whole areas of understanding in which we have made no progress at all. And not just in psychology.

It is a lively book in what I now know is typical Steven Pinker style - a solid main thread with peripheral ideas dancing round it all the time.

The book is entertaining and easy to follow. You won't need a degree in psychology - or anything - to enjoy it.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The algorithmic mind 17 Oct 2005
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind works,
Reccommended for any health professional in the Mental Health sector to read.
Infornative and descriptive.
Well written .
A good book
Published 1 month ago by busy lady
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind Explained
Explains many of the things l have always found difficult about the human mind. But still I don't understand consciousness
Published 9 months ago by John Miller
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing wizardry!
This is a must read for anyone interested in the human brain. Not only does it enlighten the reader, it wll leave you wanting to understand the brain more and more never ceases to... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Sumayya Patel
4.0 out of 5 stars GG
Twas' more of a gift really ...Can't say as of yet. Why do I need to say so much stuff?
Published 13 months ago by Bogdan Liviu Alexandru
5.0 out of 5 stars Painting The Mind
'How The Mind Works' is the best book I have read on the subject, notwithstanding that the title itself is very inaccurate. Read more
Published 14 months ago by T. T. Rogers
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius!
This is by far one of the most profound books I have read in a long time. It provides a fine introduction to the computational theory of mind and its relation to evolutionary... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Deniz Ates
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye eye!
Very good book and it contains my candidate for the merriest ribbing of Freud ever put to paper.

(Some of the minutiae of the section on visual cognition, I admit,... Read more
Published on 20 Feb 2012 by Veeaicht
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern models of the human mind
We make innumerable asumptions about how our minds work, or should work. Closer examination of the evidence reveals just how wrong many of these assumptions are. Read more
Published on 17 Mar 2011 by anozama
2.0 out of 5 stars Rather disappointing
If you are interested in how the brain/mind works, I would not start looking here. There book is a long ramble of opinion with little evidence. Read more
Published on 9 Feb 2011 by M. P. Bell
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting theories
In Pinker's acclaimed how the mind works we are given a theory, one I find very persuasive, that the mind is a product of the brain. Read more
Published on 20 Jan 2011 by Den
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